Aussie views on gene therapy and personalised medicine divided along gender lines

Sydney, 23 June, 2017:  Aussie men are almost twice as likely as women to see the benefits of gene therapy1 as outweighing the risks, according to new research from Australia’s largest not-for-profit health fund, HCF.

The HCF Barometer Survey, which looks at how ready Australians are to welcome the future of health, asked specifically about attitudes towards testing an individual’s genetic fingerprint to create personalised medicines2, and altering specific DNA through gene therapy. The results reveal a stronger sense of optimism among Australian men, with women being more likely to consider the psychological and ethical implications.

The data showed:

  • Of the 34% of Australians who agree that the benefits of gene therapy outweigh the potential risks, men are far more likely to agree (41%) compared to women (26%).
  • Men (29%) are more likely than women (17%) to believe ageing is a disease that should be managed with new gene therapies.
  • Men are more in favour of using gene therapy to correct genetic defects in their children to prevent potential illness (47% vs 36%).
  • Men are more likely to say they would use personalised medicine to treat an illness based on their ‘genetic fingerprint’ that has not been tested on anyone else (47% vs 32%).
  • Women are more likely to see the potential risks of personalised medicine, including unnecessary procedures in the healthcare system (48% vs 39%) and reduced quality of life or increased anxiety (41% vs 31%).

HCF’s Chief Strategy Officer, Sheena Jack, says ‘‘While it is exciting to see developments in medicine accelerating – including personalised medicine – it’s important that we also understand how Australians feel about these developments and how far we are willing to go to manage our health.

“It is interesting to note that we are divided across gender lines on some of the more contentious issues around the future of medicine. At the same time, it is also interesting to see the issues that we align on. For example, while there is a difference between the views of men and women about the benefits versus risks of gene therapy, we tend to come together and agree when there are clear long term health benefit of advanced medical treatments.”

The survey also revealed that the cost of personalised medicine and gene therapy is an important factor for consumers – a point Ms Jack says is also relevant to the wider health industry.

“One of the major concerns of Australians when thinking about the future of medicine is the rising cost of health and unnecessary procedures in the health system, which closely reflects current concerns about the healthcare system today. While it’s impossible to predict exactly what the future of healthcare looks like, we will need to explicitly consider cost implications if new treatments such as personalised medicine and gene therapy are to be introduced more into health services.

“The health sector needs to help educate Australians about the implications of changes in healthcare, and to do so in a way that allows people to make a choice based on a clear assessment of benefits vs risks,” Ms Jack said.

Additional data:

  • 65% of Australians think it’s acceptable to test healthy patients for mutations of genes known to cause cancer or other diseases.
  • 61% believe it’s acceptable to create personally customised organs or limbs using CT scans and 3D modelling.
  • Australians feel more comfortable using gene therapy to fix colour blindness (43%) over slowing down ageing (33%), improving intellect and brain function (28%) and improving lean muscle mass (20%).
  • Cost is perceived as a major concern when asked about gene therapy (60%) and personalised medicines (59%).
  • Over half (51%) think that by “improving” DNA, we might start to set unnatural standards for humans.


Notes to editors: The HCF health Barometer ran between 13 to 18 October 2016 and includes data from 1,207 respondents to a survey.

Respondents were asked if they agree or disagree with the statement: “The benefits of gene therapy outweigh the potential risks”.

% TOTAL Male Femal
Agree 34 41 26
Neutral 36 34 37
Disagree 11 10 13
Can't say 19 14 24

Genetic medicine1

Genetic medicine refers to genetically personalised medicines which are developed using individuals’ genetic fingerprint in order to determine hereditary illness or genetic disease

Gene therapy2

Gene therapy is an experimental form of treatment. It works by replacing a faulty disease-causing gene with a working version, or by introducing a new gene to cure a condition or modify its effects.

Personalised medicine3

Personalised medicine aims to tailor treatments to achieve the best outcome for individual and unique patients, rather than treating patients with a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Issued on behalf of HCF by WE Buchan. Media enquiries to:


HCF, largest not-for-profit health fund protecting Australians since 1932, covers over 1.5 million members with health and life insurance, community care, travel and pet insurance. On average over the last five years, HCF has paid out more cents in every dollar in premiums to members as benefits than the industry average. With over 35,000 specialists participating in its Medical Gap Cover Scheme and approximately 10,000 providers participating in its 100% back More for You programs, HCF gives members access to quality health care with no gaps or minimal costs compared to non-participating providers. To empower members to put their health first, HCF also offers a range of health and lifestyle services including its My Health Guardian health management program, mobile Victor Chang Health Checks and My Global Specialist second opinion service. HCF’s national network of retail outlets and Australian-based call centres have earned multi-award winning status. HCF members also have access to low cost, high quality services at HCF Dental Centres and HCF Eyecare Centres. Having contributed $50 million to support the health services research funded by the HCF Research Foundation, HCF is devoted to investing in the future of Australia’s health. To learn more about HCF go to

Genome Magazine, “What is Personalized Medicine.” (2015) Accessed at:
2 Better Health – Victoria, “Gene Therapy.” (2016) Accessed at:
3 Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research: Discoveries for Humanity, “Personalised Medicine.” Accessed at: