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Discovering Diseases Through DNA Testing Sparks Controversy

Audio

Aired 1/13/11

For the first time, a San Diego researcher reveals the psychological impact of finding out through genetic tests if you're likely to contract a grave disease.

— Would you want to know if you are likely to get Alzheimer's Disease, cancer or some other life-threatening illness?

Now, with genetic testing being cheaper and faster, lots of people are deciding to learn such answers about themselves. It's called "personalized genetic testing."

While a lot of doctors aren't in favor of it, but many patients like the idea.

That conclusion came from a pioneering study by a San Diego researcher, who sought to learn the psychological impact of genetic testing.

Doctor Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, led the research on what he calls the controversy of “consumer medical information.”

“The medical community has been pretty strongly against consumers getting this information,” said Topol.

The reason most doctors aren't in favor, said Topol, is that they are concerned over upsetting patients.

But, his landmark study of about 2,000 participants in several states found the opposite to be true.

“There was no evidence of any psychological anxiety, distress or negative impact,” said Topol.

In addition, his research found those who used DNA testing and discovered they were more at risk of getting a particular disease were more likely to follow up with early detection screening.

However, those same participants often did not make lifestyle changes recommended for their disease risk.

Still, doctor Topol said the new data from the study should make it easier for what he calls the “democratization of DNA.”

“Democratization of DNA is the right of consumers to get their own genetic information,” he said.

The genetic impact study is published in the January 12 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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