Next of Kin
Does that make today’s genetic tests a waste of time? No, says Prescott.
“It’s going to take early adopters”—like me!—“to push the human genome out of the lab and into the mainstream.” In other words, I am playing a small role in the genetics revolution that is fast upon us.
“I predict that personalized medicine, based on genomic testing, will be commonplace within a generation,” Prescott says. “As better genetic information becomes available, the test results you receive will become more informative. And useful.”
Some day in the not-too-distant future, he says, doctors will be able to look at your genome and know that for your high blood pressure, a certain class of statin drugs won’t work. So instead of, say, prescribing Lipitor, a so-called natural statin, your physician will give you a prescription for Zocor, a synthetic statin.
“There will be no more one-size-fits-all medicine,” Prescott says. “Marketing and advertising campaigns will drop out of the picture. Instead, it will be about what particular course of treatment works for you as an individual. Period.”
In fact, we’re already to that point with OncoVue and the growing number of genetics-based risk assessment tests. There’s no longer a need for physicians to guess whether to prescribe the drug Tamoxifen in hopes of staving off a case of breast cancer that may never develop. With the multi-layered genetic data provided by OncoVue, they can make well-informed decisions based on a person’s unique genetic make-up.
“New discoveries are being made every day, and I, for one, am excited to see what comes next,” says Prescott. “OMRF is on the cutting edge of genomic research because we’re confident the future health of Oklahomans and people around the world will be better for the work our scientists are doing.”
One of the first things I read when I started this project was an article in The New England Journal of Medicine about “letting the genome out of the bottle.” It questioned the accuracy of tests like 23andMe’s, whether they gave a clear picture of risk and just how useful a $1,000 genetic test really is.
After Googling my own genome, I found myself revisiting that article. There was nothing in my experience that led me to question the accuracy of the results (though, conversely, I have no real proof they’re right either). Rather, I kept wondering about the utility of the whole experience. Despite my newfound knowledge of more than a half-million sites on my genome, I can’t exactly walk into the doctor’s office tomorrow, slap down a printout of my test and say, “Fix me.” Still, that day might not be so far off.
Besides, the utility I’ve found in my genetic information is less about what’s on the test and more about what the testing stirred up. Even before I received my results, even before I put my saliva in an envelope and mailed it off, I became more conscious of my health than ever before. I’m old enough not to believe myself immortal, but I’m still young enough (and who among us is not?) to shudder at a future that could deliver malignant tumors, heart disease and rapid memory loss.
The truth is, receiving results that showed an increased risk of cancer didn’t exactly make my day, but I had the same risk before I’d ever heard of 23andMe. Testing or no, there’s a chance I’ve inherited cancer genes from both sides of my family tree. Jack Martin, my maternal grandfather, is still alive and kicking after facing down prostate cancer a few years ago. Velda Lee Elwell Nevill, my dad’s sister, wasn’t so lucky; she beat thyroid cancer the first time, but not the second.
More than anything, the testing experience has served as a wake-up call. Whatever my risk for various diseases, I’ve resolved to do what I can now to keep myself healthy for the future.
Since starting this project, I’ve begun watching my diet and joined a gym. That regimen has helped me lose a little more than 15 pounds. I’ve still got a ways to go before I’m a model of fitness, but I can assure you of one thing: There’s not a banana out there that can keep up with me on the elliptical trainer.