Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Personalized Medicine is coming

I am back! What a fun week in San Diego. I was at a conference for Program Directors (Responsible for training resident physicians) in Internal Medicine. During my absence a few things have come up. But first I want to talk about the conference and how almost all program directors acknowledged that they do not teach genetics in their curriculum. Moreover, several expressed interest in our curriculum. I am so excited that these teachers are now realizing the power of genomic medicine.
That being said.....Appropriate use of the genome brings great results. Misuse and blatant promotion such as that done by a direct to consumer testing center in San Francisco (I will not say their name) will only lead to sullying of the geneticists' reputations.
On Genetics and Health there is a post which lead me to a website that was promoting risk factor testing for diabetes. Like any other path I will lead you through, there is good, bad, and unknown. First the good.
Diabetes is an awful disease and the longer it is untreated the worse the outcomes. So naturally I am excited about being able to diagnose it quicker. BUT this test does not diagnose, it only shows increased risk.
Here comes the bad.
In fact, the risk of carrying this gene polymorphism is not even half as much as having a sibling with Type 2 diabetes. Why would a company promote this test rather than promote taking a family history? The answer is simple, because they make MONEY off the test or interpretation and not off taking a family history and counseling in person. I have no respect for that. In fact, people will be amazed to know that this company makes all of its profit from marking up test costs or non face to face services, and serving as an "educational" resource. What education leaves out that the best screening test for hemochromatosis is iron studies? Shame on them.
Lastly, the unknown.
Now that I know this risk, how do I use it clinically. There is no study showing that metformin or a PPAR gamma here will prevent the onset of diabetes in this risk group. What I am saying is....before we go down this road 3 things need to be done

  1. A 3 generation family history
  2. Research on prevention in this high risk group
  3. Companies looking to make a quick buck off of you on testing without clinical utility need to be punished. Or at least I can lead you away from that confusing and dangerous path.

If you do wish to do in home testing without the help of a TRAINED genetic specialist who examines you and takes a full family history, then you risk the difficulty of test interpretation, appropriate follow up, and possibly improper care as a result. I hope you choose wisely.

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