Thursday, July 15, 2010

Unexpected Enightenment - Part Two on 23andMe's "Genomics and the Consumer" Policy Forum

Its almost a month into summer and I am still too transfixed by personal genomics to take advantage of the sunny SoCal weather. I am not a scientist, but, rather a highly engaged consumer of DTC genetic testing. I, like many of you reading this, am an early adopter of this DNA testing that enables a glimpse into the age of personalized medicine - our future.
Yesterday, I had a most enlightening experience at 23andMe's genomic policy forum. I attended as a genetic genealogist concerned about impending regulation and how it will affect genetic ancestry testing, but emerged with an unexpected view of the future of health care and as an educated and dedicated consumer of personalized medicine.
23andMe assembled an excellent group of experts in the field of personal genomics. Apparently, having a favorable opinion of DTC testing was not a prerequisite for inclusion. Instead, and as it should be, the participants were chosen because they are some of the brightest minds engaged in this burgeoning industry today.
In his keynote address, Dr. Leroy Hood presented a compelling argument in favor of integrating our current health care system with analysis of personal genetic profiles as soon as possible. Although we still have a long way to go in deciphering the human genome, there is already highly beneficial genetic information that can be interpreted and utilized for each of us. According to Dr. Hood, much of the medical establishment is currently resisting this absolute eventuality. He wants us all to realize that there is potential for enormous economic gain for those corporations and/or individuals that, instead, embrace it and successfully solve the conundrum of how to facilitate and innovate this revolution into the age of personalized medicine. He discussed a time not too far off when each of us will a carry a chip with our genetic profile and wouldn't imagine getting medical treatment without it, when babies are genetically analyzed at birth, when people are assigned drug regiments based on their genetic risks and all of us will engage in what he calls "P4 Medicine." ( P4 Medicine = Predictive, Personalized, Preventative and Participatory Medicine.) Dr. Hood is confident that "P4 Medicine will drive an economic health care revolution," and predicts that it will become "one of the most powerful public and private investments of the 21st Century," while dramatically lowering overall health care costs.
What does all of this mean for the ordinary consumer? Obviously, it is in the public's best interest to have access to the most efficient and effective health care. So, what can we, as private individuals, do? Educate yourself and your family. Encourage your friends and colleagues to support the legitimate companies that are the visionaries in this new venture. Encourage ground breaking coursework in our universities (like Stanford's controversial offering). Or even, go back to school and become one of the much needed professionals who will actively participate in this revolution.
If we resist progress, ultimately, we will lose out. With too many impediments, these innovative companies and thinkers will be forced to take these advancements elsewhere and, as a result,  the US will not be at the forefront of this revolution.
Health care is a consumer driven business. As was astutely pointed out by one of the forum's panel members, Dr. Sandra Lee of Stanford, the line between patient and consumer is a blurry one.  Supply follows demand. Be vocal. Ask your health care professionals to incorporate genotyping into your care. Tell your elected officials that this is an important issue to you. Patronize health care facilities and companies that recognize the importance of genetic research and support its advancement.  Most of all, don't be one of the hold-outs. Personalized medicine is our future and it is to all of our benefit that it come sooner than later. There is a place for skepticism, especially in medicine. However, when we learn that something as benign as the Human Genome Project faced decade-long resistance (as Dr. Hood told us), it begs the question, What exactly are they afraid of?

To be continued in Part Three...

Part One - Overview, "Genomics and the Consumer" Policy Forum


  1. Cece,

    Great post! Along these lines I suggest reading "The Future and it's Enemies: The Growing Conflict over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress" by Virginia Postrel. Many in Congress are enemies of innovation and the creative destruction it brings. Although the book was written in 1998, the fights are now.

  2. Thanks for the comment and the suggested reading, Zeppley. I will add that very interesting sounding book to my reading list on which I can never seem to catch up!