Thursday, July 15, 2010

The First in a Series of Articles on 23andMe's "Genomics and the Consumer:The Present and Future of Personalized Medicine"

I was very fortunate to attend the "Genomics and the Consumer" Policy Forum organized by 23andMe yesterday. It was an impressive line-up of speakers, panelists, and moderators. Even the attendees were of an extraordinarily high caliber. California State Senator Alex Padilla was an able and well-educated host. It is encouraging to find that one of our elected politicians is well versed in such a complex science and aware of its great importance. 
What was especially interesting is that this was not an exercise in mutual admiration and patting each other on the back, as one might expect in a room full of academic elites invited by a for-profit corporation, but rather a healthy debate of differing, sometimes conflicting and even critical viewpoints. In the midst of all of this intellectual discussion, the common goal was to find ways to integrate reasonable standards and regulation in this blossoming industry that holds tremendous promise for revolutionizing our health care by incorporating the ever-increasing knowledge about the human genome.
As Dr. Leroy Hood pointed out in his keynote address, this is a revolution not an evolution.  Personal genomics is changing the rules in health care. All seemed to agree that the biggest challenge that we face is how to get everyone on board. Dr Hood calls it “the people problem.” And, really, that is what this forum was all about - the people problem. How do we come together as a society, so we can realize the potential great benefits of the advances in the field of genetics? According to Dr. Hood, “democratization of health care” can be accomplished.
Perhaps the day was best summed up when a consumer spontaneously stood at the microphone and proclaimed, “DTC genetic testing changed my life!”  She went on to relate how, without medical coverage due to a pre-existing condition, she was able to discover through her 23andMe genetic profile a potential life-threatening condition and was inspired to take simple and practical steps to lessen her risk. This served as a healthy reminder why we were all there. Each and every human being can and should be given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own health.
Change is always difficult for the already established medical field. Attendees and participants differed in their estimates as to how long it will be before we reap the benefits of personalized medicine. However, there was a consensus on one thing, it is coming.

Part Two - Unexpected Enlightenment at the Genomic Policy Forum 

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