Blog | Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's a brave new world


I just went to a session on personalized genomics, and the speakers seemed pretty unified in feeling that this is an exciting but slightly worrisome time in the field. The reason for excitement is obvious-- personalized medicine and such-- while the concern is mostly that things are moving too fast for doctors. (This, as opposed to concerns about some dystopic sci-fi reality. "I don't think we're going to see genetically-enhanced Super Heart Men in the future," quipped Hank Greely, a Stanford law professor).

When Mr. Greely asked the 200+ audience if a patient had ever brought in a personal genetic test, only a few hands were raised. Yet he predicts this will change soon. "We are within 2-5 years of a full sequence genome for under $1,000," Mr Greely said. "And you will be on the hook to explain it to your patients."

The nation's 800,000 doctors aren't ready for the coming onslaught of patients armed with their own DNA code, said Eric Topol, MD. (Anyone can now get genetic tests for as little as $400.) "Most doctors would probably say 'What's a SNP?' if asked by a patient to look at their genetic test results," Dr. Topol said.

The nation's 3,000 genetic counselors can't fill in the gaps for everyone. So what's the solution? Professional societies need to step up and figure out a way to educate physicians about the clinical significance of genetic variants, Mr. Greely said.