The 16p11.2 microdeletion: assessing the phenotypic range

The 16p11.2 story. Among the various microdeletion and microduplication syndromes located on human chromosome 16, the 16p11.2 microdeletion has unique position. Historically, this microdeletion was the first of the “neurodels” to be identified through association studies in autism, where it can be identified in 0.5% of patients. However, there is more to the phenotypes of the 16p11.2 microdeletion, which is now addressed in a recent paper assessing the full phenotypes in 72 microdeletion carriers. 16p11.2 therefore represents one of the best-investigated microdeletions to date. Continue reading

Face to face – atypical face shape and CNVs in epilepsy

Face scan. A large high-tech camera scans your face in 3D and – using more than 30,000 data points – extracts information from your face that you were not aware of including details of your genetic make-up. What sounds like dystopic Gattaca-like science fiction at first is actually an interesting novel technique to learn more about epilepsy-related microdeletions. It seems that some of their effects might be hidden in subtle facial features that might help understand how these genetic variants contribute to disease. Continue reading

15q11.2 – the microdeletion spectre

Genetic mirage. We look at genetic variants all the time. There are few genetic variants that stare back at us. 15q11.2 is one these variants, facing us with the constant question how we define and perceive genetic risk. Not because of its pathogenicity, but because of the confusion that it causes. Continue reading

Charting a bioethical gray zone: genotype-driven research recruitment

The need for re-contact. Genotype-driven research recruitment refers to the inclusion of research participants in future genetic studies based on the findings from previous studies.  For example, deep sequencing efforts within the EuroEPINOMICS Consortium may generate potentially interesting novel variants that warrant further investigation.  In some cases, it might be necessary to obtain more phenotypic information, in other cases, segregation in the family might be of interest.  Since many variants are rare in the general population, genotype-driven approaches are particularly attractive, i.e. research participants are selected based on genetic findings.  This so-called “bottom up” approach allows for targeted studies without the time-consuming and expensive step of re-screening large patient cohorts.  In the future, genotype-driven research efforts will likely become increasingly common, since it is unlikely that large-scale genomic studies alone will be able to sufficiently characterize rare genetic variants.  However, approaching patients based on genetic research data raises important questions. Continue reading

Next Generation Ethics: Struggling with petabyte consent forms

Everyone involved in research with human subjects knows about the importance of informed consent.  The purpose of informed consent is to promote educated decision-making and voluntary participation in research.  Whether or not you’re aware of the fundamental ethical principles underlying the process (patient autonomy and protection from harm, for those keeping score at home), you at least know that you have to get the study participant to sign the form. Continue reading