The era of OTC genetic testing

As the June 16th edition of the Wall Street Journal so succintly put it, “Genes, not experience, explain why the lives of some take a bad turn”. We are what our genes define us as. There is no going against our genetic code. Genetically engineered customized medications are going to revolutionize the coming decades just as the Internet of the present day.

What we miss while showing appreciation for the Internet is that it is more a victory of data mining than pure computer networking. It’s the actual applications that make the Internet so important in our lives. The power of the Internet comes from software that enables personalization and targetted addressal of the user’s demands.

Since the DNA plays such an important role in determining the course our life would take in the future, it is getting all the more desirable to try to decipher it as soon as possible. Technology, with its incarnations like sequencing, data-mining, and storage has actually made it possible to figure out our future scientifically!

Research has shown that a lot of cancers are genetic in nature, and can be effectively treated if diagnosed by their genetic precursors before the actual onset. Getting DNA diagnosed isn’t hard, atleast for known genes, but there are issues of privacy. Most people are not comfortable making their genetic identity known to others, even if for pure research purposes. Without adequate laws in place, there is nothing stopping this information to be made available to strangers. Like someone has said, you can change your credit card numbers, but it’s impossible to change your DNA.

In order to alleviate these concerns, a lot of companies have sprung up that sell kits for genetic testing over the Internet. Anyone with a credit card can now check themselves for susceptibility towards certain cancers in the privacy of their own homes by ordering an easy to use kit. These kits test for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, or any of hundreds of other mutations in the DNA, all without getting a physician or a health plan involved. These two commonly tested mutations indicate a predisposition to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Once the genetic risk is identified, there are strategies that could be put in place to mitigate the possible onset of these cancers.

So, what does the future look like when it comes to genetic prognosis of diseases? In my opinion, it looks phenomenal! And, the credit goes to research in computer science as much as that to biological sciences.

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