Ever since the human genome was decoded, we have been promised a revolution in DNA technology. Everything from curing debilitating genetic disorders to tinkering with the expression of our own individual genes seemed on the horizon. So then, how far have we come? Is the everyday individual ever going to benefit from knowing what’s inside his DNA?
Some of the biggest tools (and getting bigger everyday) that we have are large, searchable databases containing the genetic profiles of tens of thousands of individuals. These troves of information allow researchers to look for patterns in the DNA of people who share certain traits, or genetic illnesses, to help them understand how they might originate. Some of these databases have been anonymized and are available for even amateur detectives to access on the Internet.
Ancestry databases are large collections of DNA. They rely on mitochondrial DNA to trace maternal lineages and Y chromosomal nuclear DNA to trace paternal lineages. Many online sites offer DNA testing as well as access to a community of people who have shared their genome and looking to discover how everyone is inter-related. The utility of these sites often depends on the sheer volume of people that use their services.
The only drawback is the lack of a single, unified database containing all DNA profiles. Having such a collection would give researchers much more information that could spur further discoveries. If it were properly anonymized and handled by an impartial organization, it could also help reduce costs and provide more openness in DNA-based research papers.
The field of tailoring drug therapies to an individual’s DNA, known as pharmacogenomics, is only in its infancy. Many physicians are not even aware that they can order a DNA test to find out how a patient might react to a certain prescription. As the cost of testing goes down, the number of opportunities in this field is going to exponentially rise.
Since we all have our own unique biochemistry, we all react differently to certain medications and/or combinations of medications. A wrong prescription might cause a reaction that turns out to be harmful or expensive. On the other hand, a custom-made order of drugs might speed up our recovery and provide benefits that reduce the amount of time we spend receiving therapy. These types of innovations could drastically increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of drug treatment. Still the question remains: How far away are they?
One of the biggest hurdles is obtaining regulatory approval. As of now, clinical trials are already underway and more doctors are learning that such treatments are available.
While it has certainly taken a long time since the genome was unraveled for its promised benefits to arrive, it certainly seems like we are at the corner of a possible revolution. DNA testing costs have to come down, and they certainly should as they become more popular, and public awareness will follow. The future of individualized DNA testing certainly looks bright.