We need an appropriately resourced national Genetic Centre

[Speaking in the Seanad during Order of Business]

Several articles in the newspapers today refer to the issue of clinical genetics, an issue I have previously highlighted in the House. I ask the Deputy Leader to request the Minister for Health or one of the Ministers of State at the Department of Health to give his or her special attention to the urgent need to develop clinical genetics in this country and brief the House on how these plans are evolving. Historically, genetics was an academic curiosity with limited clinical relevance which mainly dealt with conditions that, sadly, affected foetuses and young children, but it is increasingly being recognised that a number of adult conditions have critical genetic components. These are no longer solely theoretical concerns because meaningful interventions can now be offered to patients with genetic diseases and, often, the screening of asymptomatic healthy family members can prevent them from developing diseases or help to diagnose these diseases at an early stage.

For obvious reasons, I have a particular interest in how this issue intersects with the cancer world and come to the conclusion that there is an urgent need to set up an adult genetic service and, probably, a specialist adult cancer genetic service. I will not speak about the details of whether we need separate services for cardiology, genealogy, etc., but I can attest that the very dedicated, under-resourced and over-burdened unit in Our Lady’s hospital in Crumlin under Professor Andrew Green has done a heroic job during the years. Despite not having the funding appropriate to a national centre, Professor Green has effectively been running a national centre. All of us have been sending patients to him with queries about whether their cancers have a genetic basis. I should not need to tell the House about the importance of this work. If a young person has a cancer genetic syndrome, he or she may have two sisters, three first cousins and four nieces who need to be tested because they may also have a cancer susceptibility gene.

In case anyone listening is in danger of misunderstanding, I stress that most cancers are sporadic, rather than genetic. However, specific patterns of family history can ring alarm bells and require further investigation. I do not believe sufficient resources are available for this to be done in a timely fashion. The waiting lists to access the service or have a blood test are too long and this runs the risk of causing problems for other family members. I urge the Government to consider the matter seriously. It is good science and medicine and humane. As it would save us money in the long run, it would also be cost effective and good business.

One Response to “We need an appropriately resourced national Genetic Centre”
  1. Eileen OSullivan says:

    Dear Prof Crown

    I have certainly an avid interest in this, being BRCA1. Also, I must pay my highest compliments to the support and information that I received from the Genetics Centre in Crumlin.

    Best regards

    Sent from my iPhone


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