From hype to reality, just like that

If you’ve been wondering whether personalised genomics startup 23andMe were for real, the wait is over. Details of their service are now available. Simply pay USD 999, spit in a tube and mail it to them (in the US only so far) and they promise a personal web-based genome browser with information about disease susceptibility, ancestry and (if your relatives join in), genealogy. The technology used is SNP genotyping – basically DNA is amplified from your sample and hybridised to an Illumina array, generating ~ 600 000 data points. All the details are available here.

Some reactions (first 2 articles by people who have trialled the service):

So there you go – we talk about the hype, the technical difficulties, the ethical/legal issues and then someone just goes and does it. I suspect that increasingly, this is how the future will unfold. Shall we lay bets on the year of the first cloned human?

9 thoughts on “From hype to reality, just like that

  1. Mr. Gunn

    How about a dystopian future, just cause I’m in that kinda mood:

    After the current media blitz dies out, awareness of these services will bubble slowly just below the level of public consciousness, then all of the sudden, maybe 6 months to a year from now, people will suddenly freak the hell out. Various political groups are going to seize upon “protecting genetic privacy” or “preventing genetic discrimination” to make a name for themselves and proceed to thoroughly mislead and misinform the public. Laws will be passed regulating the nascent personal genomics industry such that innovation is completely stifled and costs rise. It’ll require doctor’s orders to get one of the tests, but no doctor will give the orders because they didn’t really learn that much genetics in school, and don’t want to deal with hypochondriac patients worried about some mutation that don’t even really know the meaning of. More and more celebrities will sign up for the service, making the database an attractive target for hackers. After the first theft of genetic information, the industry will consolidate around the company best able to survive round after round of regulation, which will generally be the more well-connected company. Medicare, having no other choice but to go bankrupt, will begin to use people’s genomes to dictate their medical care, resulting in private practice dropping those patients entirely. The only profitable sectors that will remain for genetic testing are governmental healthcare contracts, and, of course, the prisons…

    Of course, most people will use this information for good, to improve their health, enrich their lives, and decrease the cost of medical care and insurance, too, but I do think it’s going to be a bumpy road gettig there.

  2. Sebastian Bassi

    Mr Gunn said: “decrease the cost of medical care and insurance”

    Insurance needs uncertainty to work. If you know you will have a disease, you will hire the insurance, if not, you won’t. So people insured will be the most prone to have a medical condition, this will result in a hard time for medical insurance companies.

  3. Kay at Suicyte

    Neil, is this really “going from hype to reality”? Wasn’t most of the talking about technical difficulties referring to whole-genome sequencing? SNP chips are are relatively well-established technique.

    W.r.t to the discussion on ethical issues and impact: Most of the damage will probably be done by people who think that a particular polymorphism will tell you “whether you will get disease X”. Probably, marketing by PG companies will reinforce this notion. What people will have to learn is that (with a few notable exceptions) the disease relevance of genetic data is a probability game – in many cases one with a very limited prediction capability. It is plain wrong that your future is determined by your genes. There is an influence for sure, but often a very minor one compared to other factors such as environment.

    Moreover, what people often overlook: Disease incidence on a population scale can often be predicted by taking into account known genetic and environmental factors. Disease incidence on the individual scale (with PG companies are after) is governed to a large extent by plain old chance.

  4. nsaunders Post author

    is this really “going from hype to reality”

    I think it is, in that last week “personalised genomics” had no product and this week, it does.

  5. Mr. Gunn

    If you know you will have a disease, you will hire the insurance, if not, you won’t.

    Even if 10000/10000 people with a given SNP develop a disease(unlikely), there’s still no predicting when, so the uncertainty remains.

  6. Deepak

    The idea, at least in principle is not that having a SNP will tell you that you are going to get a disease or not (we all know better), but just as you monitor cholesterol, etc, you can monitor for indications of any diseases you are at risk for, with the hope that you can catch it early and treat it early. We aren’t there yet, not even close, but it’s increasingly the place where the effort in translational groups in pharma is being spent. That + companion diagnostics.

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