In 2003, the Human Genome Project produced a map of the human genome, making it possible to identify variations in individuals’ genetic makeup and identify associated diseases. Last week, this groundbreaking research was updated to include data from dozens more ethnic backgrounds than those who participated in the original sample.
This more robust representation advances scientists’ understanding of complex parts of the genome and is an important step in ensuring genetic variants won’t be missed when examining an individual’s DNA genome. Good news, right?
Absolutely, as it helps people be proactive rather than reactive, moving beyond the trial and error of fixing a health problem after it exhibits itself; the more we know about genetic predisposition, the more we can personalize treatment. Doctors can customize care in terms of prediction and precision.
But it’s also a nuanced issue when one considers how else this data could be used. Might hiring employers factor in the likelihood of absence due to illness or cost of insurance plans? How do insurance companies handle the temptation of genetic profiling? Will pharmaceutical companies exclusively pursue medicine that affects the largest or most affluent part of the populace, leaving some diseases “orphaned categories”?
Darden Professors Yael Grushka-Cockayne and Mike Lenox discuss personalized medicine, examining what we can do with an expanded view of our own health — and what others can do with it.