Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Microsoft to Join Scripts, Navigenics and Affymetrix in 20 Year Genetic Screening Test

I read a blurb in ePharmaceuticals about Microsoft teaming up with Scripps Translational Science Institute, Navigenics and Affymetrix "to study the impact of genetic screening on individuals' behavior. The aim is to determine what effect, if any, information about one's chances of contracting a particular disease has on how people live their lives."

"Researchers will study the genomes of up to 10,000 employees and family members of the Scripps Health system in San Diego who volunteer for the project and will monitor changes in their behavior over a 20-year period. Under the plan, Affymetrix will scan participants' genomes and Navigenics will interpret the results and provide participants with guidance on how to lessen the chances of contracting diseases to which they may be genetically predisposed. Participants will be able to store their tests results, and related data, in a Microsoft HealthVault account."

This study is pretty significant to me and I'm sure to the Genomics community - too bad we will have to wait 20 years to see the results. I have had a few conversations, online and off, about the importance of genetic testing and what it will really do to change patient behavior.

One person claimed genetic testing has to be covered by insurance to determine risk factors to enable behavioral change - ie. if you are at risk for diabetes, control your weight and diet. Another person thought that no matter what people know about their "health future" and possible conditions, they will do little to change their behavior.

I am on the fence about testing on a personal level, but feel that people who want to have it done and can afford it, should have it done. 23andMe now offers a $399 personal genetics service - which is pretty hard to pass up. I know that if I found out something horrible, and shared it with my wife, she would want /make me to change my lifestyle to reflect what "might" happen - so that is a deterrent. On the hypocritical flip side, I would like to have my children tested for just that reason.

Last month, Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google and husband of Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe's co-founder) wrote on his personal blog about 23andMe and his higher risk of developing Parkinson's. This created a lot more buzz around 23andMe, genetic testing and PD - bringing the issue back into the national forum. I wonder if Google Health and 23andMe will launch their own study?

I am very interested to see what becomes of Scripts study and to see if people will change their behaviors based on their genetic makeup. Perhaps they will start reporting at the 5 year mark to give us a taste of what how patients are trending? Unless there are incentives provided, I doubt many people will change their behavior. ie. people smoke for years, knowing it can kill them, but as soon as their company /health plan offers them an incentive to quit, they try to quit.

I already know I am at risk for diabetes, cancer and heart disease, based on my family history - but one day soon I will get tested to see everything else that is in my DNA. Perhaps it will be this year's Christmas present to the family.

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