Right up near the top of the list of wise things your Grandmother used to tell you was something like “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Turns out, she had it absolutely right. Yet even in her wildest dreams, there is little possibility she would have realized, the extent that saying would have, on the future of the world’s health.
Forever, prevention has always been easier. Easier than the cost, time, and the heartache involved in a cure. Whether it’s changing your car’s oil or going for a walk, prevention helps. Prevention is a principle of nature.
Today, the cutting edge of medicine is moving in that direction. And it’s soon to be available to regular people. This ultimately means a preventative, uniquely personalized, proactive digital health care solution. By definition, it must start with the decoding of one’s own genome.
Although a somewhat startling revelation, this is not as audacious as one might think. According to some experts, “sequencing your DNA and making sure you are treated properly is going to be the norm in the next few years.” In fact, AstraZeneca has just committed to sequencing the genomes of 2 Million people. Yet doing so personally feels like crossing some sort of universal cosmic chasm.
With our complete DNA, our medicine and health care can now be specifically designed for us – not just people like us. Because medicine that is good for one patient can literally kill another, cause dangerous drug reactions or just waste our time and money due to ineffectiveness, personalized medicine makes sense. Your health is your own business. So why not have as much information on the medicines or treatments that are proposed for us?
Here’s what’s changed…
While complete genomic sequencing is not necessarily new, the whole availability of complete testing and analysis was previously only available for 10’s of thousands of dollars – just in the last couple of years. As a result, any regular person interested in finding out more than common genetic conditions and their family history, has only been able to get a subset of their genetic information (called a genotype) through what are now considered cost-effective confidential and reliable services such as 23 and me – which we have written about in the past here and here.
Today, we are on the verge of full genetic sequencing being available to regular people – not just the Angelina Jolie’s of the world. That’s a good thing, because, with proper analysis and application, your DNA has the potential to literally save your life and/or improve your condition dramatically over where things are today. And the news is only going to get better. Costs continue to plummet.
So where are we today? It’s a really a bit of head-spinning moment.
Today, the world of DNA decoding and analysis is starting to reach levels of accessibility that was simply not previously available to you or me. Since 2001, the cost of sequencing a full genome has dropped from $3.1 Billion to now just under $1,000 USD.
And now available test to U.S. citizens from Sure Genomics, uses an at home spit test and will fully decode your entire 6 Billion base pairs of genetic information in just a few weeks. That’s simply shocking.
And yet, there’s more. Decoding one’s genome is really just part one. Think of it as the physical part. It’s the data extraction, and thus just part of the puzzle.
DNA Analysis is part two, which will be never ending. (We’ll write on that as research becomes available).
Once identified, there is the evident need to find out what it really means to the interactions of your life. That is why Sure says that their aim is to make your information interactive and easy to understand. After all, there is no point deciphering your code if you can’t make use of what it tells you. (That’s not just not now either. We haven’t really even started on the types of things big data will be able to find in the coming years).
While we are sure to see a number of different services that provide similarly and even integrated complementary services come to the forefront over the next decade, for anyone concerned about immediate potential birth defects of a future child or drug interactions, this can be life changing today.
Put into perspective, however, this sub $1000 sequencing achievement signals the start of the Age of Proactive Health Care which, apart from the typical ‘get plenty of exercise and eat lots of fruit and vegetables’ advice we hear from our Doctors, simply has not existed to date. And as such, this commoditization of sequencing costs shows we are at the earliest stages of a sea change in health history. It will be both an interest and a threat to the medical community as a whole.
Just how this is all going to play out is still somewhat unclear. In the future, with a sub $1000, Do It Yourself ‘Spin your own DNA” home kit now available on Kickstarter, one might envision everyone’s entire genome becoming as accessible to anyone as a fingerprint left on a pop can is today.
There are also big dollars involved here. So big in fact that the entrenched interests of the US healthcare industry may start to wade in using regulatory bodies as their proxy.
At the end of the day, however, the Western world rightly refuses to permanently shelf any technology that might allow competing nations to get ahead of them on. So this whole field is moving ahead rapidly, no matter what the regulators and corporate interests would like to see.
So is it right for you?
Whether you want to consider DNA testing or not for your own situation is going to depend on your urgency of care and overall privacy concerns. We’ll leave that for you to decide. It is obvious that days of personal genomic testing are coming quickly. Over the next decade, this will likely become the norm.