Do You Want to Know What’s in Your Genes?
Are you better off knowing or not knowing? For healthy people, is there a compelling reason to know if your genes make you susceptible to a specific disease or condition? Or are there some things you’re better off not knowing? As the cost of sequencing a person’s genome plunges, these are no longer hypothetical questions. Some scientists and doctors see sequencing as another preventative diagnostic test. But others argue that the results are still imprecise. How useful is it to know you have an increased risk of cancer when it could be twice the norm or 100 times? And some fear the strains put on the health-care system by millions of otherwise healthy people who, as a result demand further test and procedures that ultimately could prove unnecessary or harmful.
When you fall ill, you sometimes need to go to a doctor to find out what is wrong. At the doctor’s office, they will observe your symptoms and examine your body. They may look inside you using X rays and other equipment. They may do tests on your blood or urine, to see whether anything is wrong with your cells or the way your body is working. They also may do something else: look inside your cells at your genes. Every day, genetic research is being applied in new ways to help diagnose health problems. Someday, it also may be possible to correct health problems by going inside cells to the genes. Treating disorders by altering genes is called gene therapy.
A decade ago, researchers completed what was one of the greatest scientific achievements of our time when they decoded the last of the three billion letters that make up the human genome. Since then, the cost of sequencing has dropped dramatically – from $3 billon for the first human genome to a few thousand dollars today.Learning about your genetics enables you to optimize your health. It will take us decades to understand all base pairs in the human genome, but today we already know what thousands of important genetic differences mean for individuals.I am asked regularly, “Why would you ever want your genetic information?”
We know that genes affect your risk for conditions like cystic fibrosis and breast cancer, and we know how your genes affect your responses to drugs like Warfarin. As genetic testing becomes more affordable, more people can benefit from understanding their genetics and use that understanding to improve their health, help them prevent the harmful side-effects of some drugs and potentially avoid preventable deaths.For example, roughly 8% of people with European ancestry have a genetic variant that puts them at higher than average risk for blood clots. There are a number of easy ways to minimize this risk, ranging from avoiding oral contraceptives to staying hydrated and maintaining mobility during airplane flights.
The genetic revolution is here. Just as computer technology and the internet created whole new industries and extraordinary benefits for people that extend into almost every realm of human endeavor from education to transportation to medicine, genetics will undoubtedly benefit people everywhere in ways we can’t even imagine but know will surely You help shape what happens through the way you express your beliefs and opinions and by the actions you take. You also affect what happens through your community efforts, working for the passage of laws or electing leaders who believe as you do. Now you have the choice to remain informed. You have the choice to use your knowledge when making personal decisions that involve the use of genetic research. And you have the choice to participate when issues involving genetics are raised in your community..