DNA testing companies like 23andMe and Ancestry
have made DNA testing mainstream, with adoption skyrocketing among consumers.
Meanwhile, health tech startups like Veritas Genetics are starting to push the trend
even further – from genotyping to whole genome sequencing. What’s the
difference? Well, genotyping looks at less than half of 1% of your
genome, while whole genome sequencing looks at over 99% of your genome.
Veritas is betting that consumers are ready for
what’s revealed by looking at more than 6.4 billion letters of DNA and are
promising that the value of that information will only get richer as time goes
on and the science that makes sense of our genome achieves new breakthroughs.
In fact, Veritas is positioning their $999 test
as “a resource for life” and Rodrigo Martinez, their Chief Marketing &
Design Officer who I chat with here, shares a vision for the future that
includes asking Alexa to scan your genome before taking medications or risking
allergic reactions to foods.
This is fascinating proposition for the future
of health (investors are jazzed too, having poured $50M into the company), but
ethical questions abound. How do you make this information useful and
actionable? How do you handle situations where major health issues are reveled?
And what about data privacy? This is about as personal as personal health
information can get. Rodrigo weighs in…
Personalized medicine is the future. It is where the science is going. It is where the technology is going. It is where doctors and patients will want to go. Yet unfortunately for many of us, this is not where the Obama administration wants to go.
First, the good news. Biosensors that can be worn on clothing or jewelry, or held against the skin by a Band-Aid-like patch, or inserted beneath the skin are capable of monitoring a whole host of chronic diseases. Among the technologies that have been, or soon will be, developed are devices that can continuously monitor the blood glucose levels in diabetics; the rate of breathing, blood oxygen saturation, etc., of asthmatics; and the heart rate and other parameters of patients with heart disease. There are even heart attack and stroke attack detectors. In some cases, personalized devices can activate therapies. A wearable, automatic insulin pump can be coupled with a blood glucose measuring device to create a virtual artificial pancreas. (See this fascinating summary.)
The science of genetics is also about to explode. There are as many as 1,300 genetic tests currently available that relate to about 2,500 medical conditions. Gene tests can predict your probability of getting particular types of cancer, whether you will respond to routine chemotherapy or whether there is a special therapy that only works on people with your particular physiology. The days when experts argued over whether men should get a prostate cancer test could be long gone. A simple test can tell if you have a high probability of contracting the disease, or a low one.
Which of these two events is fact and which is fiction?
Organizations representing employers and health plans call for a moratorium on implementation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, asserting that the new rules could have a “significant and adverse impact…on wellness and prevention efforts” in the workplace.
One of the largest companies in America begins matchmaking its employees based on their genetic compatability, hoping to save on the health insurance bills associated with imperfectly bred children.
Answer: No. 1 is a Dec. 2 press release from the Disease Management Association of America. No. 2 is a description of the Dec. 8 episode of the ABC-TV comedy, “Better Off Ted.”
As a member of a hospital geriatric emergency team, I’m on the front lines of a major health care issue that need immediate attention. The costs of keeping a person barely alive during their last few weeks of life easily run into the millions. The procedures undertaken at such times are painful and poorly thought out, and do not at all increase the quality of one’s life. The unfortunate senior who falls into the end-of-life emergency medical cycle can expect his or her final days to be miserable and lonely, with family relegated to the sidelines, while medical people rush around administering “care.” Such a person is robbed of dignity, and robbed of the right to die with loved ones nearby.
The reason why medical teams are pressured to perform endless procedures on our most ill seniors is because the legal and ethical issues at stake are in limbo. That’s because the questions raised are not just for individuals to answer, but for society as well. They are questions for a nation.