Know Thyself, Genetically Speaking.

The body is a machine, one that consists of innumerable complexities of which modern science is only just beginning to get a grasp on. Still even with our admittedly limited understanding of how many of the bodily functions work we’re still able to figure out how to optimize its performance at various tasks. To that end I’ve personally read through reams of research to find out what I can to do maximise many aspects of my life, from my fitness to my cognitive faculties and even to my skills as a gamer. Of course my process lacks much of the scientific rigour that I’ve come to admire so more often than not I’ve found myself pursuing something without doing the right amount of research into it.

23andmekitOne of the many things that’s been on my to do list for a while was to get my DNA sequenced by 23andMe to find out what my genetic profile is like when compared to the rest of the world. Whilst I’m already somewhat aware of the health risks that run in my family I’ve always thought it would be good to backup the anecdotes with a little bit of data, even if it was only a single sample point. I’m also lucky enough to have a wife who understands biology on a level that far surpasses mine so the possibility of me finding out that I have a propensity for a rare genetic condition and flying into a wild panic are somewhat diminished.

However it seems that others aren’t so lucky and upon finding out the results of their 23andMe test are seeking treatments for conditions which may be completely unnecessary. This has since prompted the FDA to serve 23andMe with an enforcement action, essentially a cease and desist order giving the company a couple weeks with which to comply with them or face the consequences. Honestly when I first heard about it I was wondering why the FDA would bother targeting them, indeed I thought the kinds of people interested in such data would be well equipped to interpret it, however reading over one particular case showed that 23andMe could stand to use a little more rigour.

Of course the big issue here is people using this data in a vacuum and failing to consult with others to get clarity on what the numbers mean in the real world. My sister in-law found herself in a similar situation recently when the doctors refused to guarantee her child would be free of downs syndrome. The reality is that it’s simply something that we can’t rule out, no matter how good the indicators are, however when the chances are on the order of 1 in 100,000 or greater you have to understand that the risk of it actually happening is quite low. 23andMe results need to be taken in a similar light and in the event should they predict something horrific the next stop should be a genetic counsellor, not the surgeons knife.

I still plan to use the service one day as whilst my primary focus would be looking for potential treatments to improve parts of my life I’m also very interested to see what statistics has to say about the things locked away in my genetic code. Whilst I’ll likely research anything that I feel might be a threat I’ll be sure to temper that research with advice from people more qualified on this area than me. Perhaps this is something that 23andMe should look into doing as whilst it’s nice that they don’t alert you to potentially life changing facts without warning you first getting some context from a real person would probably go a long way to solving their problems with the FDA.

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