From Janampatri To Genomepatri, Is Unlocking Your Genome Worth It?

How much do you really want to know what’s lurking in your DNA?

Published
Health News
4 min read
Genetics can give you a glimpse into your diseases pre-dispositions, so is it going to be the way forward for the country which has the highest diabetes rate? (Photo: iStock)

If someone gave you the choice of getting to know each and every disease you and your family have in your DNA, would you like to know? A blueprint of three billion bits of the DNA, the building blocks of every cell, can reveal your complete biological destiny. All this is possible with techniques like gene mapping; but would you really want to know what diseases await in your future?

Well, gene mapping is to this century what a stethoscope was to the last; albeit a more powerful and disturbing tool.

Our janampatri crazed country has got the taste of ‘Genome Mapping’ or ‘Genome Patri’, a scientifically-validated health horoscope made by scooping out one’s genetic profile. Perhaps, this is the metaphor for everything that’s right and wrong with technology.

Hyderabad-based MapMyGenome is one of the many companies which have mushroomed to cash in on the growing health consciousness and the preventive healthcare market in India.

Genes Can Reveal A Lot About You

The hope is that mapping variations in the entire human genome can speed up or improve disease diagnosis and aid in developing more medical treatments targeted at patients with a specific genetic makeup (Photo: iStock)
The hope is that mapping variations in the entire human genome can speed up or improve disease diagnosis and aid in developing more medical treatments targeted at patients with a specific genetic makeup (Photo: iStock)

If you’re affluent enough to shell out a fee of Rs 10,000 to 25,000, a simple saliva test can predict whether you’re predisposed to cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heart conditions, kidney ailments, alcoholism, obesity or any other medical condition.

Supporters hail this technology, because most of these diseases can be stopped in the tracks by lifestyle changes.

The Results Are Not Engaging Enough, In Fact They Are Pointless and Clumsy

If the genetic testing reveals your unborn child will be prone to debilitating diseases when she becomes an adult, what will you do? Terminate the pregnancy or spend more money on controversial techniques like gene-editing, where you can tailor-make your children (Photo: iStock)
If the genetic testing reveals your unborn child will be prone to debilitating diseases when she becomes an adult, what will you do? Terminate the pregnancy or spend more money on controversial techniques like gene-editing, where you can tailor-make your children (Photo: iStock)

I don’t know why, but I got my newborn’s genome mapped - (before you judge me) many people are doing it these days. We’re apparently the generation which is not satisfied by just the child’s weight, height and how adorable they look! The fact that we had the ability of looking into his genome future was exciting. But the initial fascination quickly faded once the results arrived. Thankfully, he had a ‘boring genome’ - we wasted Rs 20,000 to know that his risk to a host of diseases when he becomes an adult would depend upon his lifestyle!

Really?

Did I need a genetic test to tell me that heart attacks, obesity, diabetes, some cancers can be avoided with a healthy lifestyle?

If you are an adult, your genome kundli will read something like, “You have a higher chance of ovarian cancer than 70% of the population and a 1 in 4 chance of developing Alzheimer’s”. So what does it mean? You might get cancer but you’ll lose your brain so won’t care about it?

The report will map your risk of all the major lifestyle diseases and the advice will tell you to get some exercise, use your brain more often, keep in shape, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much and keep your sugar levels in check.

The Results May Lead To A Lot Of Unnecessary Screenings

Let’s be very clear about the fact that disease predisposition does not mean you’re getting the disease. And genetics is only a small portion of risk. Environment, lifestyle are far greater matters for a lot of disorders to manifest. But once the findings are with you, a 70% higher ovarian cancer risk will mean yearly exams, over exposure to radiation, unnecessary stress and loads of money.

The analysis will alert most individuals to an increased risk of at least one disease - but for most people would provide negative test results for the majority of diseases studied, failing to forewarn them of diseases they could ultimately develop (Photo: iStock)
The analysis will alert most individuals to an increased risk of at least one disease - but for most people would provide negative test results for the majority of diseases studied, failing to forewarn them of diseases they could ultimately develop (Photo: iStock)

There’s Still So Much We Don’t Know

If serious life-threatening conditions run in your family, or if you are suffering from a critical illness, knowing the exact gene that was broken or wrong might help doctors plan a better treatment. However, a decade after the massive Human Genome Project, genetic maps have not yielded many better cures. Till now, genome mapping has very limited use in actual medicine, it has not revolutionized diagnosis or treatment.

The information from these reports is so broad that it cannot explain everything medically, forget about life. Genes are no destiny. Carrying a particular gene does not imply that you will suffer from cancers and other diseases. With that amount of uncertainty, do you really want to know what’s genetically possible?

And then there is the whole issue of your genetic profile going public - will you be comfortable if you employer knew your risks of having serious diseases? Or will pharma companies make targetted medicines for you?

Only time will tell.

My advice, the mapping is really effective when you’re talking about a disease where a single gene mutation is involved but the procedure is expensive. So if you are reasonably healthy but a worrier, don’t go for it: the results will only indicate your probability of dying from a particular disease/s but not reveal that you will do great in life and be a rockstar!

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