My article in Deccan Herald

Deccan Herald

A genome scan for your doctor

With access to a person’s genome and the variations in it, doctors will be able to recommend prevention strategies based on the genetic make up.

The day is not far when a visit to the doctor’s clinic will entail a genome scan for your ailments. This technology has been heralded as the ultimate diagnostic tool. If you choose to have a genome scan, you can have access to all your genetic data, sequenced, annotated and complete with the list of diseases you are susceptible to. You can actually keep this information with you; stored in some electronic device; like a DVD. People working on this technology are sure that very soon genome scanning will revolutionise the medical diagnostic methods.

According to a group of scientists who participated at the conference “The Future of DNA Sequencing: Advancing Toward the $1000 Genome”, genome scanning could be ready to use within five years. While some companies like Amersham Bioscences are tweaking their existing machinery to make them smaller and much faster for this purpose, other companies like U. S. Genomics Inc. and VisiGen Biotechnologies Inc. are using nanotechnology and bio-mimicking technologies to speed up the process. These approaches will help the scientists to mimic the intricate workings of the cellular structure.

US genomics

Using the ability to unwind long stretches of DNA and the power of a laser scanner, US Genomics can scan the genome at the rate of 30 million letters per minute. This is a milestone when we compare the speed of conventional technologies which can do only a million letters in a day. But faster and cheaper scanning technology is not enough. There should be a greater understanding of diseases, environment and their association with genomic variations. Without this information, the genome is like a map with no names on it.

New biomedical knowledge and analysis tools will enable medical practitioners to interpret the different areas on the map, compare them with each other, note the differences and finally provide a personalised genomic profile. All humans have 99.9 percent genomes which are identical. Therefore, efforts are made to look into the remaining 0.1 percent, which is unique to each individual.

Individual reactions

These differences in each individual genome are what make some of us more prone to diseases and help to know the effectiveness or side effects of a particular drug. Using a chip arrayed with genetic material to detect these differences, researchers can scan the entire genome of an individual and record the distinctions in one experiment alone.

This technology can aid in better diagnosis of diseases. With access to a person’s genome and the variations in it, doctors will be able to recommend prevention strategies based on the genetic make up. Accordingly, doctors would be able to prescribe drugs tailored made for an individual. Thereby, increasing the effectiveness of the medicines and minimising the adverse effects. A genome scan undertaken early in life will help alert people of the risks of contracting diseases like cancer, schizophrenia, cardiac problems etc. This way people can take the necessary steps to prevent them. A genetic disease triggered by environmental factors would be preventable by avoiding exposure to the triggering agent. The existing diseases could be cured in a better way.

The way scientists are working on genome scan technology, the day doesn’t seem far when it will become a routine test at the doctor’s clinic. Finally, a new paradigm in medical care will emerge, making medical intervention both preventive and individualised.

Ashwin Naik

Vaatsalya Healthcare

Comments

  1. how do you see its use in India and when ?
    and what do you mean by prevention strategies for cancer and Schizophrenia ,you mean to say if there is a genetic defect you can prevent the disease occurence in all the cases by modifying the envirnoment,or are you talking about prophylactic treatment And what about cardiac problems .I think this needs a primary prevention .or rather I woul like to ask you who are these people who need a genetic maping .