Mind and Body

What geneticists think you should know



Given the rapid drop in price of whole genome sequencing — a technology that allows doctors to get information on your entire DNA — one day relatively soon you may get a chance to find out about your risks for different diseases, The Wall Street Journal reported.

But do you really want to know?

This question once seemed more appropriate in the context of a parlor game, something fun to think about but not relevant to real life. Increasingly, however, it will be an actual discussion between a physician and patient. As WSJ reports, efforts are already underway to study and offer full sequencing as a clinical test.

To get the discussion started, a group of 16 geneticists recently took a survey on what results they think labs should report.

The study, published in March in Genetics in Medicine, has several limits. For one thing, the geneticists were focusing on conditions that might be found unexpectedly after a doctor orders full sequencing while looking for the cause of some other problem — a so-called “incidental” finding.

In addition, the geneticists (some run labs, some treat patients) weren’t weighing in on whether patients have the right to know something. Rather, they were making decisions under the assumption that patients weren’t getting the information directly, but from lab reports sent back to their doctors.

Still, the survey offers a good way to start thinking about the issue.

Dr. Jonathan Berg, an assistant professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says he ruled against labs giving back findings on Huntington’s disease and other mutations like APOE, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, because there aren’t any effective interventions yet.

Berg, a physician who evaluates people with family histories of cancer, says these kinds of findings should only be returned if specifically requested by the patient.

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.