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Kimberly Powell

DNA Mapping - Would You Want to Know?

By June 3, 2007

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James Dewey Watson does. Well, most of it anyway...

Best known for discovering the structure of DNA with his research partner Francis Crick, Nobel laureate Dr. James Watson became the first person to receive his personal genome - a full DNA sequence of all 46 of his chromosomes. He has even agreed to make his entire genome available for researchers to study, except for his apolipoprotein E gene which he does not wish to know as it could provide information about his susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease. "Who wants to know that?" Dr. Watson said.

The sequencing of Dr. Watson's DNA took two months and cost close to a million dollars to complete. But technology companies such as 454 Life Sciences, Illumina and VisiGen Biotechnologies say the price of sequencing a complete human genome has already dropped to $100,000 -- fueled by the race to win the $10 million Archon X Prize for Genomics -- and that a $10,000 price tag is feasible within a few years. This would bring the cost of the personal genome into the realm of possibility for individuals and health care professionals looking for information on possible future health issues or risks - bringing new meaning to the term "checkup."

Your medical family tree can tell you a lot about your genetic predispositions, and genetic tests for certain illnesses and diseases are also readily available. But once personal genomes become affordable, all the facts about your susceptibility to medical conditions can be available to you at the click of a mouse. In the case of something that can be possibly avoided (such as Type II diabetes), or potentially cured with early detection (such as colon cancer), the personal genome could potentially be a lifesaver. But along with that you'll also learn about your predisposition to illnesses such as Huntington's and Alzheimer's, that are currently incurable. Would you want to know?

June 4, 2007 at 1:03 am
(1) Deason Hunt says:

Yep. Forewarned is forearmed. I would want to finish up all my loose ends and help my family make the difficult decisions that would face us (esp. them) in the latter stages of those diseases. Lack of knowledge is more scary than knowledge of what’s likely in the future. I might point out that although a person is pre-disposed to such conditions, no one can be 100 percent in predicting the future.

June 4, 2007 at 11:06 pm
(2) Edana says:

I am in a simular situation right now. Not that I will have the DNA testing, but I have in the past five years been diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses. Fibromalgia Syndrome, Restless Leg Syndrome, I get no REM sleep, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Anemia, Anorexia, (but not Anorexia Nervosa) Malnutrition, Failure of my body to absorb or use many nutrients, Osteoporosis of the spine and hip, and a rhythmic disorder of the heart. This could be enough, but my complete Immune System has shut down, and I pee my pants!

I have a wonderful team of seven doctors here in Boston who have been looking after me since March of 2002. They cannot cure any of these situations, about the best is to treat with narcotic pain relievers, and sleep preparations.

My father’s entire family, including himself died with some form of dementia, probably Parkinson’s Disease w/ Dementia. Notice Parkinson’s did not kill them, but they were demented at the time of death.

The doctors say I will die soon, most lilely from viral pneumonia, but any virus could kill me. If the DNA test would tell me anything about how ill I am now, or a life expectancy with my family history, I would take it in a heart beat. I do hope some day this type of testing will be available to the average person. There is nothing quite like living each day not knowing what the next day may bring. Had I known that working 70 hours a week for 20+ years could literally wear a body out long before the expected years, I would not have been quite so eager to be part of every project, plus be the super mother, wife, and house keeper. Who knows? Both of my grandmothers were over 100 years old when they died, my Mother is 85. She looks younger than I do now. Perhaps with this part of family history I will die young at 90 years old!

June 6, 2007 at 7:06 pm
(3) Albrecht says:

Now that’s a tough one. I’m usually not one to take risks and if there’s a safe route, it’s usually the one I tend to take. That said, I’m not sure i’d really want to know what the future holds.

It’s much the same as if you knew when you were going to die – you certainly could plan, but then I worry that this singular information would consume your thoughts, psyche, and soul.

I try to live every day as if it were my last. I try to stay at peace with family, friends, and self and not live with regrets.

Knowing that I had Type II diabetes in my future would be good to know – because as said in the article, you could do something about it. But you already likely know those risk factors. Knowing that I was faced with Parkinsons or Alzheimers, and not being able to do anything about it – would be alot to handle… I’d worry that when I forgot where I left my keys, it was a sure sign I was going down hill.

The other worry with genetic mapping is, of course, insurance. Once that information got out, insurance companies actuaries would be busy assessing premiums based on your ‘DNA Score’ much as your financial life is based on your ‘credit score’.

I think DNA mapping is in our future, but we need to put governance in place to control the dissemination and ultimate use of such powerful information.

Great article Kimberly on a topic that will touch all of us in the future!

June 8, 2007 at 11:52 pm
(4) Karen says:

First, let’s set the record straight: A “predisposition” does NOT mean that you will definitely contract any illness. We all carry a predisposition to something. The difference is in what may trigger the development of a condition and how to avoid those triggers. Yes, I would want to know. This way, I could pay particular attention to avoid any triggers that might exist, educate myself on the topic, make a living will that would target my particular predispostitions and make my treatment and wishes known, and prepare my family members for what to do in the event that I would actually contract the illness. I agree with “forwarned is forearmed”! I think it would be a powerful motivator for more people to become actively involved in finding cures for specific illnesses. Imagine a billionaire finding out that his only child is predisposed to developing a rare form of cancer – I can assure you that more of the monies that are tossed out the window for luxuries would be redirected towards funding the research for a cure! Motivation, indeed! We should be informed.

June 10, 2007 at 4:33 pm
(5) Vicki says:

Sure would. Then I could prepare for the time I couldn’t function anymore. It’s not like it’s a psychic prediction; more like highway road signs (dangerous curves ahead) or “railroad crossing”. Do people like to be warned when there’s a bad storm coming? Yes they do, so that if they’re in its path, at least they can figure out something to do to try to save themselves.

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