Are We Ready For Genome Mapping?

There was a report on NPR that showed how close we are coming to being able to have your genome mapped in the doctor’s office and the whole procedure will be similar to getting your cholesterol checked.

This procedure is not even remotely ready for prime time and researchers are only mapping themselves at this point but the preliminary results are showing promise.

“When Michael Snyder, who chairs Stanford University’s genetics department, decided to become his own sequencing guinea pig, the results were dramatic — and shocking: Snyder learned he was at risk for Type 2 diabetes.”

“It didn’t seem to make sense: Snyder had no family history of diabetes; he wasn’t overweight. There was no reason he should get the disease. Still, just to be on the safe side, Snyder asked a colleague who specializes in diabetes to monitor his blood sugar levels. At first, she was skeptical.”

“The person doing the test said, ‘There’s no way you’re at risk for Type 2 diabetes.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t think so, either. But my genome says there’s something interesting about my glucose metabolism, so I think we should do this test,’ ” Snyder said.”

“So everyone was stunned when his blood sugar started rising — and then kept rising. Within months, it spiked. They had literally watched him become a diabetic in real time.”

“So in fact, my genome, then, did predict I was at risk for a disease, which, by following the various markers for that disease, I did discover I did get,” Snyder said.”

“Snyder jumped on it. He completely transformed his diet and kicked up his exercise. After about six months, his blood sugar gradually fell back to normal.”

This is great news, right?  From this genome mapping data, doctors might be able to determine if you are at a higher risk of heart disease, breast cancer, type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol and prescribe medicine or life style changes pro actively to prevent future illness or early death.

“This is one of the big benefits doctors expect to get from sequencing: a whole new way to figure out which drugs work for their patients; which don’t; which are safe; and which are dangerous.”

“The doctors of the future, when you start to prescribe a drug for which you have a genomic variation that would give you a side effect, a flag will pop up and say, ‘Maybe you ought to, you know, consider another drug,’ ” says Robert Green, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School.”

Before you get too excited, there are a few downsides.

The NPR article pointed out that these test results are not without error.

“There are plenty of chances for bad or misleading results that could end up doing more harm than good. “Medical tests have the power to help,” Evans notes. But they also “have the power to confuse.”

The results might also keep you from getting Life Insurance increases as the results will be available to the Insurance companies.

“Federal law bans health insurance companies and employers from penalizing people based on genetic information, but the law doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care insurance.”

But the most troubling result of genome testing is giving you information that you don’t want to know.  Does it make sense to tell someone they have a high likelihood of contracting a disease that has no known cure?  One of the people who had their genes sequenced was James Watson who shared the Nobel Prize for his research into discovering the structure of DNA.  It is interesting that before he volunteered, he had one request:

“When Watson was asked to volunteer for sequencing, he had one condition: “I didn’t want know its prediction for Alzheimer’s,” says Watson, who had watched his grandmother die from the incurable brain disease. “There’s nothing you can do to prevent it, so why would you want to know?”

With Genome mapping, we are getting closer to being able to tell a person how they will most likely die and when that will happen (excluding accidents of course).  Is this something we should know?  If this knowledge allows us to proactively prevent a disease, then yes but if we are told that we will most likely contract a disease, like Alzheimer’s, that has no known cure then maybe that information needs to remain a secret.

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2 Responses to Are We Ready For Genome Mapping?

  1. Pingback: Are We Ready For Genome Mapping? | cosmoscon – Diabetes Information

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