Over the last few years I’ve seen commercials for the service 23andMe. Framed as a way to trace your ancestry in an attempt to know more about yourself. Which really interests me, as I am a self proclaimed genealogy nerd. Well, other people probably think it’s nerdy also. What’s interesting about 23andMe is that it tests your DNA to figure out where your family originates from. I have a pretty good idea, but there are still some unanswered questions for me. 23andMe would definitely provide some of that information for me. But there is something oddly scary about having your DNA test. Regardless of what it’s for.
Sure, the ancestry testing seems harmless, but they have recently been given the green light by the FDA to start testing for genetic conditions. The thought of this makes me panic slightly. Why? It’s almost like a crystal ball, telling me what the future holds. And sure, perhaps the results will keep me from getting a condition. Or getting it as bad, but I’m still not sure that I really want to know.
According to engaget.com, the service tests for the following conditions: Parkinson’s disease, late-onset Alzheimer’s, Celiac disease, Alpha-1 antitypsin deficiency, early-onset primary dystonia, factor XI deficiency, Gaucher disease type 1, G6PD, hereditary hemochromatosis and hereditary thrombophilia. Most of which, I can’t pronounce or even know what they are. But even if this could prevent or minimize the effects of Parkinson’s, I think it would be worth it.
That is, if you’re not like me and you could stomach knowing what these results are going to be. For example, Parkinson’s runs in my family. As do many, many other things. (Apologies to my future kids) But the difference is, most of those are already preventable. And we know about them. I may be predisposed to heart disease, but that doesn’t mean I will have a heart attack. Looking after myself from a physical perspective goes a long way in this. But can we prevent Parkinson’s? I don’t know too much about it, so that’s a hard one to answer. But, perhaps knowing about something in advance will give the researchers and scientists the ability to come up with some kind of drug or treatment.
I guess my issue with this is knowing my fate. On one hand, I tend to be a planner, but could I plan for the fact that I am going to get a particular disease? Perhaps in the Alzheimer’s case, I could prepare my family and get my “affairs” in order. A good friend of mine watched her mother go through Alzheimer’s for several years. It was heartbreaking. Maybe if she was able to have taken care of the banking, or her will in advance of it, perhaps it wouldn’t have been so hard on my friend?
Regardless of my feelings on this, I think it’s going to open doors for us, medically. The one other thing that engaget.com mentions is that this service doesn’t provide testing to indicate if a woman is predisposed to breast or ovarian cancer. Which to me is a huge issue. With so many women dying from treatable cancers, there has to be something we can do to prevent it? Or maybe I’m just being too lofty here. The treatment for cancer is horrendous. It wreaks havoc on your body. You may survive, but you don’t come out the other side the same person. And maybe that’s ok. But if there is testing out there that could help people in the case of cancer, I think we should consider it further.
There are genetic tests that can be done, but at least in my experience, there has to be a reason. You are having symptoms of said issue, and the doctor wants to know what kind of treatment to provide you with. You can’t necessarily go out and have it done yourself. I hope that this opens up the market for more testing options like this. Yes, the ancestry aspect is fun and interesting, but let’s utilize this technology to benefit humanity.