Experts: genetic screening could mean the democratization of medicine

May 3, 2017 AT 10:02 PM

While the federal government has been investing millions of dollars into precision medicine research, some stakeholders see the recent decision by the FDA to approve 10 genetic screening tests offered by 23andMe as a “turning point in the democratization of personalized medicine.”

Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, Peter Huber and Paul Howard, senior Fellows at the Manhattan Institutes, argue, “Consumers’ right to know their own genetic health risks will become more important as sophisticated diagnostics like whole-genome scans, artificial intelligence, and targeted drug and gene therapies reach doctors’ offices in the years to come. Together, these tools can empower patients to become co-directors of their own medical destinies. In fact, the right to know the risks contained in your genetic code will likely become the most fundamental medical right of the 21st century.”

Their argument revolves around the idea that direct-to-consumer genetic tests arm patients with more information about their health, which is likely to drive engagement. Companies like 23andMe are also providing more access to researchers studying genetic risk factor for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s by allowing users to opt into research projects. 

According to Huber and Howard, “Already, companies and researchers are studying massive databases that combine genetic information with information from electronic medical records, wearable devices, and patient survey data on diet, exercise and even mood. Mining data from tens or hundreds of thousands of patients helps companies and doctors explore, test and develop tailored interventions to treat or even prevent serious chronic diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”