Posted: June 11, 2009
Map your DNA to improve your health?
Denver’s Rose Center first in state to offer genetic testPatricia Kaowthumrong
When Dr. Richard Abrams discovered he didn’t have the genetic marker for Alzheimer’s disease, he said he was glad he decided to go through with the genetic testing offered by Rose Center for Preventive Medicine. The 3-year-old Denver center, founded by Abrams, is the first in Colorado to offer the $1,800 test.
Rose Center, which is devoted to preventive, proactive and personalized medicine, is “the future of health,” Abrams said.
Six months ago, the center partnered with Navigenics, a Foster City, Calif.-based personalized genetic testing company, to provide a test to view DNA and reveal genetic predispositions for health conditions ranging from stomach cancer to glaucoma.
Rose Center then takes those results and helps individuals develop personalized and in-depth health plans.
“With appropriate time, testing and technology, we’re able to discover risk factors that left alone could, in fact, turn into significant medical problems and do something about them,” Abrams said. “We have the technology to intervene, prevent and uncover disease at an early enough stage that it’s still curable.”
Although Abrams doesn’t have the genes for Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t mean he still couldn’t get the disease. Not having the gene just lowers his probability of getting it; having the gene would increase his probability.
“Your genetics aren’t your destiny, but they do tell you your risks,” Abrams said.
Since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, geneticists have been able to identify markers for 27 conditions including type II diabetes, breast cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma, glaucoma and Alzheimer’s.
There are more diseases that can be determined genetically, but results for those conditions aren’t available because geneticists haven’t yet developed a strong enough gene-disease connection, Abrams said.
The Navigenics test joins 900 different genetic tests available, including those conducted to determine genetic predispositions, confirm diagnoses and screen embryos and unborn babies for diseases, according to National Human Genome Research Institute. There are many questions surrounding the reliability of such tests and the ethical issues raised by them: In 2008, President Bush signed legislation to prohibit genetic discrimination by employers or health insurance providers.
But it's an area of research that continues to grow because of the mysteries DNA can uncover for individuals.
After all, Abrams said, once patients are aware of what health conditions they're susceptible to, they're more empowered to take control of their health.
One patient of Abrams’ discovered he had a higher than normal chance of getting prostate cancer, so Rose Center monitored him closely with more frequent blood tests and prostrate examinations. He was even prescribed a medication that would reduce his risk of developing the cancer by a significant percentage.
“We want to get away from the one-size-fits-all philosophy,” Abrams said. “We want to be able to identify individual health risks and have a equally unique health plan to lower those risks.”
Rose Center offers the genetic testing for about $1,800, a slightly lower price than if patients decide to do testing directly through Navigenics. Besides the cost savings, Abrams said, Rose Center provides personalized service. Through Navigenics, the entire process would take place over the phone.
No blood is needed, Abrams said, just 2 milliliters of saliva, or less than a teaspoon’s worth. It is also possible to “deselect” any of 27 conditions if a patient would prefer not to know if he or she has a certain genetic marker.
“Knowledge is the most important weapon we have to maintain good health,” Abrams said. “And we have the knowledge to say, ‘Here’s the card you were dealt, now we’re going to play them much better, and it’s going to pay off bountifully for you.’”
Patricia Kaowthumrong is a student at the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Contact her at Patricia.Kaowthumrong@colorado.edu.