Epistasis Blog

From the Computational Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania (www.epistasis.org)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Interpretation of Genetic Association Studies

This is a great new paper on the usefulness of genetic associations for personalized medicine. Very important.

Jakobsdottir J, Gorin MB, Conley YP, Ferrell RE, Weeks DE. Interpretation of genetic association studies: markers with replicated highly significant odds ratios may be poor classifiers. PLoS Genet. 2009 Feb;5(2):e1000337 [PubMed]

Recent successful discoveries of potentially causal single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for complex diseases hold great promise, and commercialization of genomics in personalized medicine has already begun. The hope is that genetic testing will benefit patients and their families, and encourage positive lifestyle changes and guide clinical decisions. However, for many complex diseases, it is arguable whether the era of genomics in personalized medicine is here yet. We focus on the clinical validity of genetic testing with an emphasis on two popular statistical methods for evaluating markers. The two methods, logistic regression and receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis, are applied to our age-related macular degeneration dataset. By using an additive model of the CFH, LOC387715, and C2 variants, the odds ratios are 2.9, 3.4, and 0.4, with p-values of 10(-13), 10(-13), and 10(-3), respectively. The area under the ROC curve (AUC) is 0.79, but assuming prevalences of 15%, 5.5%, and 1.5% (which are realistic for age groups 80 y, 65 y, and 40 y and older, respectively), only 30%, 12%, and 3% of the group classified as high risk are cases. Additionally, we present examples for four other diseases for which strongly associated variants have been discovered. In type 2 diabetes, our classification model of 12 SNPs has an AUC of only 0.64, and two SNPs achieve an AUC of only 0.56 for prostate cancer. Nine SNPs were not sufficient to improve the discrimination power over that of nongenetic predictors for risk of cardiovascular events. Finally, in Crohn's disease, a model of five SNPs, one with a quite low odds ratio of 0.26, has an AUC of only 0.66. Our analyses and examples show that strong association, although very valuable for establishing etiological hypotheses, does not guarantee effective discrimination between cases and controls. The scientific community should be cautious to avoid overstating the value of association findings in terms of personalized medicine before their time.

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