Harvard Geneticist Robert Green wants to explore babies’ DNA. Want to help him?

Dr. Robert C. Green wants to win the “Bright Futures Prize” to explore newborn babies’ genomes.

If you were a new parent, would you want your baby’s DNA analyzed?

…if it might predict your baby’s risk of developing diseases like diabetes, heart disease or cancer later in life? Would you want your pediatrician to have this information? Should it be in your child’s health record? What would be the psychological impact on you and your growing child? Would it scare you or affect bonding with your child?

These are just some of the questions that Dr. Green (in video below) wants to answer if and when he wins the Bright Futures Prize offered by Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

What’s in celebrity DNA?

A number of celebrities have had their DNA analyzed for a variety of reasons.

The late Steve Jobs had his DNA analyzed in 2004 and again in 2009 to search for causes and possible cures for the cancer that ultimately killed him.

When 37 year-old Google Co-founder Sergey Brin had his DNA analyzed in 2009, he discovered that he has a 25% chance of developing Parkinson’s Disease by age 59 and a 75% chance of developing the disease by age 79. What if he had known these risks as a child? Would he have studied computer science and co-founded Google or perhaps instead have become a doctor and devoted his life to finding a cure?

 

 

Actress Glenn Close had her DNA analyzed when she was 63 years old to try and discover the reason why there is so much mental illness in her family.  Her sister Jennie has bipolar illness (manic depression) and her nephew, Jennie’s son, has symptoms of both bipolar disease and schizophrenia. Ms. Close is working to erase the stigma and discrimination of mental illness through her foundation Bring Change 2 Mind.

 

In 2010, 61 year-old Ozzy Osbourne looked for answers in his DNA to the question of why he was still alive after decades of substance abuse and living a rock-star lifestyle, burning his candle at both ends. Ozzy reportedly found out that his genome contains some Neanderthal genes. (Are we surprised?)

“Bright Futures” or Gattaca? You Decide.

The 1997 science fiction drama Gattaca came out about 4 years before the human genome (DNA) was fully decoded and when the cost of decoding 1 person’s genome was about a billion dollars. 15 years later, in the “not-too-distant future” of 2012, the cost of decoding a person’s genome is about $10,000 but will probably be only a $1,000 by 2013. Compared to the hospital bill for delivering a baby, that’s not very much.

Gattaca explored the unintended consequences of biotechnology. In the movie, one of the characters was denied the opportunity to become an astronaut based on his DNA. Since 2008, it has been against the law to use a person’s genetic (DNA) information to discriminate against them for health insurance and employment purposes. In other words, if your baby’s DNA revealed an increased risk of developing a disease, this information could not be used to deny him or her health insurance, a job or a promotion.

As explained in the video above, Dr. Green wants to explore what parents would want to know about their babies’ DNA. For instance, would you really want to know if your newborn baby had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease when they grow older, or Parkinson’s disease like Sergey Brin? The $100,000 Bright Futures Prize would allow Dr. Green to decode the genomes of 10 babies. You can vote for his project here.

For more information on medical DNA, see Genomics for Primary Care Physicians in 5 Minutes or Less.

This post was brought to you by

 

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

3 Comments

  1. Rohini Sigireddi

    December 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    The rapid expansion of technology in the life science industry has led to the increasing ease in sequencing an individual’s genome. The rise of genomics in medicine poses unique repercussions in the realms of personalized medicine and society’s quantification of the self.

    With the growing rise of individual genomic sequencing, through commercial sources and hospitals, it is becoming more common for individuals to know much of their genetic information, and thus genetic predisposition to certain diseases. Given by the increase of medical information available to patients, more patients have begun demanding personalized medicine, individualized treatments that fit their medical needs. The increasing ability of genomics to genetically assess a person and determine their likelihood of contracting certain diseases, will inevitably lead to individuals seeking treatments that suit their particular genetically determined and decoded, medical needs. Unfortunately, hospitals and doctors may not be technologically prepared to meet this demand.

    Secondly, alongside the rise of genomics, we have seen a societal interest in quantifying oneself. The quantification of oneself has occurred through many avenues, including new smart phone applications that allow individuals to track every aspect of their health, including their weight, blood sugar, etc. With an increase in genomic sequencing individuals can now quantify their entire medical history and biomedical components. Society has gone from not understanding anything about medicine, to visualizing ourselves within medical contexts, to now analyzing our every feature and protein using modern medicine. Society once looked forward to feeling the first kick of an infant, to later visualizing a baby still in the uterus using ultrasound technologies, to now analyzing that unborn child using advanced genomics. While the adoption of genomics has not taken place throughout medicine, there is certainly drive in the private market, through sites like 23andMe and others offering genomic sequencing.

  2. Peter Cabeceiras

    December 8, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    As genomic medicine advances, more novel genes will be discovered and researched. There will probably be a day in the near future where all newborns get their genomes sequenced. This not only opens new possibilities for personalized medicine, it will bolster preventative medicine, and give genomic research an enormous data set to test.

    Genomic research needs to use very large sample sizes and complex algorithms to find significant correlation between the gene and the effect. If more and more people are getting their genome, or their child’s genome, sequenced, the data will more clearly show key genes that could be contributing to the cause of disease. These new gene discoveries will benefit new drug discovery efforts because researchers and investors can be more confident that the gene of interest does what the statistics say it does.

    Preventative medicine could also benefit because this information can motivate parents and their children to modify their behaviors based on what their risks are. For example, children who are found to have PKU can be put on a proper diet plan sooner than they would have been without their genetic information. Parents will also be more motivated to feed their children healthier foods if they know beforehand that their child has an abnormally high risk for heart disease or diabetes. If doctors can get these sequencing results in an EMR, then they can individualize how they treat the patient, because knowledge of patient’s risk can change how a doctor works or what a doctor looks for. This knowledge in the hands of a patient can allow them to enhance their future health by clearly defining what medical aspects may need more attention than others. A patient already has access to a broad spectrum of medical knowledge on the internet, but genomics could help an “e-patient” specify what they search for.

    This early-stage genomic analysis can allow doctors to personalize their treatments, and help patients pragmatically manage their health.

  3. Stephanie

    December 10, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    The article and previous comments illustrate the significant potential that genomic medicine holds for improving medical care. By exploring links between genetic sequencing and medical disorders, medical institutions can bring us closer to preemptively meeting the challenges presented by health problems. This would allow medicine to appropriately harness these exciting, “disruptive” technologies towards customized medicine, to borrow the words of Topol in his book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine.
    However, it is immensely important to bear in mind the aspects of genomic medicine that need further refinement. Handling and storing this information, especially if genomic sequencing becomes widespread, presents a considerable challenge. The memory necessitated would be enormous, and additionally, storing the data in a secure and safe manner is of the utmost importance. Furthermore, the implications of the handling of this information, especially with regards to insurance companies, are important to consider. Insurance for individuals at high risk for particularly difficult diseases and conditions could be compromised by their insurance providers getting access to such information as it may translate into higher premiums.
    By the same token, the genetic associations with disease have not been fully explicated and thus, may lead to the anticipatory treatment of conditions that may not even arise. Such over-treatment is already a problem in medicine, especially with regards to certain diseases that are screened for, e.g. prostate cancer. Ultimately though, the promise that genetic sequencing holds far outweighs these issues, and hopefully, this field will enable medicine to transform itself into a more customized, patient-oriented discipline.

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