Wednesday, February 27, 2013

23andme - My genomic health predictions

I signed up for the $99 23andme genetic test a couple of months ago and got my health results last night!  Genetics is very interesting to me, and if I were younger it would be my career path.  As research progresses, understanding genetics and applying it will have a huge impact on society over the next 100 years.  For a quick tutorial on genetics, watch https://www.23andme.com/gen101/genes/.

For the rest of this write-up I am going to focus on the genetics part of things.  Of course environment plays a huge role, we all know that eating healthy can reduce my risk of stomach cancer, etc.  So I will leave that caveat off the rest of this...

My Health Results
The good news is that I have good health genes.  As the video shows, I have my family to thank for that.  I have several family members that have lived past 100 years old and all of my grandparents were healthy people.

The results are pretty interesting.  They are broken into the following areas:

  • Disease Risk - This is a long list of diseases that I have a higher or lower probability of having something like gout, kidney stones, or stomach cancer.
  • Carrier Risk - for example do I have genes that are more likely to cause breast cancer in my children.
  • Drug Response - for example, my genes indicate a slightly increased sensitivity to warafin/Coumadin.  This information can help guide a doctor in prescribing an initial dosage level if I ever need a blood thinner.  I also have a higher odds than normal of developing a heroin addiction (2.5-9.9 X more likely than the lowest level gene combination)  You can see the details in the graphic on the right.
  • Tendencies - like I have a tendency to overeat (I knew that already, but now I can blame it on my genes!)
On the right is an example of my page on Drug Response.  The column with the stars in it shows the correlation/confidence in the influence of my genes on this type of response.  As you can see, the ones with 4 stars mean there is a high correlation and there has been enough research done to determine a link statistically.

The Promise
There are several amazing advances that can be made by knowing your genetics and for research to continue to gain more insight:
  • People can change their environmental factors to adjust for their higher risk levels.
  • People can prepare for potential future challenges such as a probability of Alzheimers.
  • Doctors can administer treatments that are more likely to work with fewer side effects.
The Challenges
Of course there are always people who are afraid of change and new science.  One of the biggest challenges to the overcome is one of privacy and implications of genetic information.  

Certainly some people have no interest in knowing about the things that I find fascinating.  For example, 23andme provides results on Alzheimers, but since there is nothing that can be done environmentally, they do not share that information in the standard reports.  You have to go thru several steps of learning and accepting little checkboxes to see what your genes indicate in terms of the probability of Alzheimers.  I wanted to know because if I have a more likely chance of getting it, for me I would want to do some things to prepare myself and my family.  Some would not want that hanging over their heads.

The more important challenge is getting enough reliable data to do real research.  If you drill down on some of the studies that back each of the genetic traits, they typically come from Europe or Asia.  One of the reasons for this is the universal healthcare in those societies does not subject a person submitting their genetic code and tracking their health to selection into an insurance program.  In societies like the US, there is of course much greater concern as health insurance companies can chose who they cover.  

Even with universal healthcare, there is fear of the information falling into employers hands.  An employer might want to hire healthier employees (or not).

And what about potential mates?  That starts to get real personal.  And the implications are much more life changing than past waves of technology like your computer getting hacked or having telemarketers learn your cell phone number.

In my mind, the technology will continue to evolve.  And societies will be impacted by this and have to make even tougher decisions than the ones outlined above.  For example, here is an article  and a eugenics research study that talks about the fact China has more genetics engineers than any country and how they are trying to move toward a higher IQ population by leveraging genetics.

Yep, the next 100 years are going to be very interesting!

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