Friday, November 8, 2013

Take the Time for 23andMe

As I wrote in a recent post here, I've had a genetic test made to find out more about my ancestry, and encourage anyone reading this to get one if you haven't already. I had a much better than average idea of my ancestry already, having read books and pamphlets about it, and the test results came back and astonished me. It did have some surprises, and weeks later, I'm still digesting the information and its' possible relevance to my future. In fact, I was inspired to get further testing done at the rival of 23andMe.com (that I used) with AncestryDNA, and 23andMe is a thousand times better. I would urge you to get your genetics test as soon as possible done at 23andMe. It's empowering to know your own genetic makeup, and know more about your health, change what you can't, manage what you can't. for your own specific body, and learn hundreds of things about your health, for only USD$99, a huge bargain at the time of this writing.

The company 23andMe was named after the 23 pairs of chromosomes within each of our cells for a total of 46. To update or possibly refresh your memory of high school biology, 22 of the pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females. Females have two copies of the X chromosome in the final pair, and males have one X and one Y.

In addition to having my own genetics tested in this inexpensive test, being a writer I've composed fiction that is still in draft form and being readied for publication as a novel, that explores the topic of eugenics as one of its' themes. I've thought a lot about eugenics. For example, one of my daughters has red hair (like 4% of the world's population), green eyes (like 3% of the world's population), and B- blood, like less than 2%...Yet, is it likely or unlikely her type would have been selected by prospective parents? Oh, I found out I'm a sprinter, and I find that amusing, as everyone who has ever jogged or walked with me knows I'm not the fastest, quite the reverse, so perhaps another gene balances it out. Much is yet to be learned about genetics.

So it was with great interest that I read this opinion piece published, and presumably sanctioned, by the journal "Genetics in Medicine" the Official Journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics. It was referenced today in The Scientist Magazine linked from The Daily Beast. The controversial issue is that these scientists believe that genetics should not be hoarded by any one company, and they are disappointed that 23andMe or indeed any one particular company was given the patent.

What are parents looking for in a eugenics program? As this article says,

"The phenotypic characteristics that may be on the users’ (e.g., parents’) “shopping list” can include both disease-related and non–disease-related traits, such as height, eye color, muscle development, personality characteristics, and risks of developing age-related macular degeneration or certain types of cancer.2 Figure 4 of the patent application lists the following alternative choices: “I prefer a child with”: “longest expected life span”/“least expected life cost of health care”/“least expected cumulative duration of hospitalization...."

Also, 23andme has a competitive advantage to securing the patent if a company's going to get one. If the company's

"goal was to set a legal precedent that would keep others from profiting from any similar ‘inventions.'...
  "there is no indication that this is the rationale behind the case discussed in this commentary."

My question is what was 23andMe's motivation for securing the patent?

Like other users of the site, I love what 23andMe is doing. It should be possible to conduct research with raw genomic data and advance medical science. The company has bought a crowd-sourced site that asks questions to gain insight into diseases using volunteered observations, such as whether certain pills are better for depression than exercise, or whether certain pills are better for arthritis than avoiding certain inflaming foods or exercise, and actively solicits survey rankings of popular remedies from readers.

I'm not suggesting for nanosecond that 23andMe is going in the direction of eugenics. But as this opinion piece points out, a certain amount of genetic selection is going on already, as far as the avoidance of dread diseases in offspring is concerned, whether natural or unnatural.

I have to agree: WHAT IF eugenics ran amok, and eugenically selected beings were considered superior to non-eugenically selected beings, if certain characteristics became not just desirable but mainstream and essential to professional success? The idea of eugenics being made possible by any organization or government is controversial at heart. Haven't many wars been fought about eugenics and possessiveness by cultures and nationalities?

If 23andMe is going in a certain direction why not say so? I guess since it's a private company there isn't the legal necessity, but if genes are going to direct the medicines of the future, and possibly the future of mankind, then the knowledge about them shouldn't be secretly hoarded.

In the fiction manuscript for my novel, my protagonist, a male journalist, stumbles across an illicit program and wins a major prize and a girl (instead of the scientist who was already raising her daughter)...Anyway, that's not ready for prime time yet, although my novel called Finer Spirits is finally published, a story about an alcohol poisoning, and you can read more about it here on my writer blog S J Seymour.

Since then I have tried running my results through other sites to find out diagnoses, and Promethease is one that tells you with even more details and links to the science behind raw genetic data. I didn't study genetics, but getting a test can lead in many wonderful directions and is educational. Much of it doesn't seem scary or require genetics education.

The results from general whole body genomic testing, even from the best popular site, 23andMe, should enable your doctor to tailor your medicine to what will work for you, and not for the person who happens to have an appointment before or after you. Comments on the site say doctors should be sympathetic to these tests, of else it's a sign a patient should choose another doctor. These results should help give doctors the tools they need to make accurate diagnoses and give patients the appropriate medicines and perhaps they will work harder catching up. I wish I had been able to take this information and used it years ago.

Here's one of my favorite videos about 23andMe by a doctor who understands, and has made me an unpaid cheerleader. Here's a good video about the doctor and how he incorporated the genetics test into his practice.

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