“The business of America is business!” Calvin Coolidge once said. (Well, he actually said “the chief business of the American people is business”, but hey, close enough). Nothing wrong with that, right? Profiting from any new technology is as American as apple pies and facelifts.
So when I read in the New York Times’ Week in Review section that a startup company called 23andme is going to be selling transcripts of what it deems to be the important parts of your DNA genome, I thought to myself “Gee, what a great idea.”
And if you believe that was my first thought, then you haven’t been reading my blog. Companies such as Illumina, Applied Biosystems and 454 Life Sciences can supply your entire genome for the low, low price of $100,000! The Times tells us that some of the people who have already signed up include Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, Stephen Hawking, and Larry “Loan me 50 dollars” King. Oh, and Michael Milken. Gee, what a treasure trove of information his genome will be.
So many problems exist with the idea of having your genome on a disk that I hardly know where to begin. One is the theft issue. If you think thieves can benefit from your social security number, just think what they can do with your genetic blueprint. I think your insurance company would looooove to get their hands on it, which brings up another thorny ethical problem. There are some laws that protect us against genetic discrimination, but that field is still being sorted out.
I also do not look forward to having a patient show up and say “It looks like I’m positive for a DR2 mutation. I want to get tested for vasculitis.” What do I say to such a patient? Do I have to spend a half hour explaining to them that they have no signs or symptoms of vasculitis? That the blood tests are not definitive? That insurance would likely not cover the tests? That there’s no preventive measure to take anyway? Will there be any time left to actually check their blood pressure?
On top of all of this, an interesting article appeared in the April 11, 2007 issue of JAMA. Researchers tested 85 variants of 70 genes previously reported to be associated with coronary artery disease. And guess what… they found that NONE… that’s right, NONE of the variants were more common in the patients with CAD.
What does that mean? That means WE DON’T KNOW S%&$ about genomics! So for those of you who are plopping down 100 GRAND to get your genetic code, GOOD LUCK doing anything with the information!
Jackassess! (That means YOU Larry King!)