Saturday, November 17, 2007
Today in the NYT an article pops up which slightly disturbed me. The reporter had her genome sequenced by 23 and Me. What turns out is that indeed he is using his information for health. Surprise....when everyone was saying...."It looks as if 23 and me will only be doing ancestry analysis" WRONG.
So why am I disturbed? Genomic Voyeurism is on. Without the standard interpretation and guidance....people are soon to be hopping on the genome train. What is not explained is the fact that most of these tests are mere party tricks. Data to support their use in healthcare and prevention is fishy at best. Just like the snake-oil salesman, we have these companies peddling a peek into the future. All the while they are stealing ownership of your DNA!!
an example from the NYT
"For instance, I tragically lack the predisposition to eat fatty foods and not gain weight. But people who, like me, are GG at the SNP known to geneticists as rs3751812 are 6.3 pounds lighter, on average, than the AA’s. Thanks, rs3751812! "
The gene implicated here is FTO, affectionately called FATSO, or FAT MASS- AND OBESITY-ASSOCIATED GENE. What is not explained in detail is that there are several variants of this gene. Some have significant data behind them. rs9939609 is one. But rs3751812 is not nearly as well examined. Chew on this to get a flavor of the nuance going on in these studies. Or this. To spout of risks and likelihoods via google is exactly where we are going to have some problems.
We all know that cigarette smoking causes emphysema (The horrible debilitating breathing condition requiring you to carry around an oxygen tank). But, here's a little known secret. ONLY 15% of smokers ever get emphysema. Why don't we tell smokers this? Because it'll give them false hope that smoking is ok. Why isn't it ok? A much higher percentage than 15% get lung cancer. How do we know that not being a carrier of this change is all that beneficial? The answer: We don't. So how can we make false assumptions about the allele rs3751812?
The Sherpa Says: What is tragically lost in this article is that explanation and understanding need to accompany genetic data. Otherwise we are left to our own assumptions, and we saw how right we were about that universe revolving around the earth . Or how about our world being flat? See what I mean. Without further examination, the advice 23 and Me, Navigenics etc. are giving now is just plain useless. That is precisely why deCODE has stated that their test should not be used for medicine. Only healthcare practitioners trained in interpreting your data should be.......Hey that sounds like us. Too bad there are only 100 geneticists who are trained in adult disease :( As for the disclaimer not to be used to diagnose or treat...last time I checked, I am ordering the same tests as 23andME to diagnose and treat! Maybe they should add a caveat "But to steal your genome" at the end.