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Can Genetic Profiling Translate into Better Health Care?

Can Genetic Profiling Translate into Better Health Care?

Firms can now map a person’s full genetic profile faster and cheaper than ever before— it’s a trend which could have important implications in health care, and it’s one that continues to get coverage in the nation’s major media outlets. In March, The New York Times wrote that new technology to this end is raising hopes for advances in medicine. Today, The Wall Street Journal reports that the emergence of this very technology creates a new question: How to translate knowledge of a person’s genetic profile into better health care. According to Journal reporter Amy Dockser Marcus:

Genetic profiling, known as genome sequencing, already is helping researchers diagnose rare or mysterious illnesses. Other specialists use the process to tailor drug therapies for advanced cancer patients. The latest research focuses on how to use genome sequencing in basically healthy people, especially those who may have a family history of disease but no symptoms.

At such prices, some experts and health-care companies are predicting that genome sequencing will one day become common practice in doctors' offices and hospitals as a means of guiding prevention and treatment of illnesses.

Yet others acknowledge that there are still major questions to be answered to determine if genome sequencing will, in fact, have wide-reaching applications.

Some specialists say full genetic mapping often has limited use. For diseases like diabetes and heart disease, which have many causes beyond genes, genome sequencing isn't able to predict who will get sick. Even proponents say the clinical significance of nearly all of the millions of mutations found in a person's DNA is still unknown.

Last month, we addressed some of these questions in the Foundation's blog; there are still plenty of barriers to clear before genetic breakthroughs will translate into practical personalized medicine for everyday folks, in particular. The main challenges: How do we interpret the vast amount of data culled from genome-wide sequencing, and translate these early discoveries into treatments?

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