As costs for genetic testing continue to drop, more and more people are making health decisions using the unique data stored in their own DNA code, including movie star Angelina Jolie.
Jolie famously chose to have a double-masectomy after a genetic test showed she carried a gene that indicated an increase risk of breast cancer. Roughly 12 percent of women will develop breast cancer, but it is much higher in women who carry a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, according to a LiveScience report.
As Ann Nicholson writes in her story, "I Made the Same Decision as Angelina Jolie," her doctors estimated she had an 87% risk of breast cancer. After undergoing a double mastectomy, her risk would drop to around 5%.
Genetic testing is also finding an increased profile in the prevention of diseases passed down to babies via In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments. In a recent breakthrough, embryos were checked for genetic abnormalities before the embryo was selected for IVF. By selecting an embryo free of abnormal chromosomes, babies that end up with genetic disorders including Turner and Down's syndrome are reduced.
Some critical of the testing see the use of these tests applied to the creation of designer babies. In fact, genetic tracking company 23andMe received a patent this month for a baby trait prediction calculator. 23andMe had said the tool would be used by parents as “a fun way to look at such things as what eye color their child might have or if their child will be able to perceive bitter taste or be lactose intolerant.”
The company said it doesn't plan to use it and when it filed for the patent back in 2008, it considered the use in fertility clinics to give a more calculated donor selection at egg or sperm banks.
“It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies,” The Center for Genetics and Society executive director Marcy Darnovsky said. “We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus from which to choose a future child’s traits."
It's clear genetic testing, it's use for health decisions, and the potential for gene modification within the human egg is a growing trend as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) planned a two-day hearing to discuss the matter next week. Due to the government shutdown, the meeting has been postponed without any notification of a future date.
The plastic surgeon who performed Angelina Jolie's breast reconstruction spoke about a "team approach" for breast cancer treatment this week by including a variety of doctors at the time of diagnosis.
"A woman is the captain of her own health care team, and the doctors involved should be co-captains with her, working with her to help achieve the best outcomes," Dr. Jay Orringer said.
As genetic testing becomes more mainstream with genetic data in the hands of more individuals, becoming captain of your own health care team, as Dr. Orringer suggests, achieves nothing less than epic status.
Photo by Remy Steinegger, EnemyOfTheState derivative work: Hekerui (Jolie.png) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.