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

23 June 2017: New research from HCF – Australia’s largest not-for-profit health fund – has found that men have a stronger sense of optimism towards emerging health technologies than women, with women more likely to consider the psychological and ethical implications.

Gene therapy is an experimental form of treatment which 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. HCF’s research found that Aussie men are almost twice as likely as women to see the benefits of gene therapy as outweighing the risks.

Personalised medicine aims to tailor treatments to achieve the best outcome for individual patients, rather than treating patients with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Women are more likely to see the potential risks of personalised medicine, with ‘unnecessary procedures in the healthcare system’ (48% vs 39%) and ‘reduced quality of life or increased anxiety’ (41% vs 31%) two of the common concerns.

The results have been revealed as part of the HCF Barometer Survey, which takes a deep dive into how ready Australians are to welcome the future or medicine and health care. As part of this survey, Australians were asked specifically about attitudes towards testing an individual’s genetic fingerprint to create personalised medicines, as well as their thoughts on altering specific DNA through gene therapy.

Some key findings from the HCF Barometer Survey:

  • 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%).

HCF’s Chief Strategy Officer, Sheena Jack, said that while it’s 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’re 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 benefits of advanced medical treatments.”

HCF is committed to fostering and championing innovation in health care, while at the same time aiming to better understand and improve actual patient outcomes and experiences in the healthcare system. By understanding the sentiment, concerns and any potential barriers that people might feel around personalised medicine, HCF can help Australians make more informed decisions about their health.