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Genetics may be the next big thing in medicine, but at what cost?

Many believe genetics are the next big thing in medicine, but one question for this new era of personalized medicine is cost.

This Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project. Many believe genetics are the next big thing in medicine, but one question for this new era of personalized medicine is cost. In theory, DNA sequencing can make it a lot easier -- and cheaper -- to fight cancer. 

"When you sequence all the genes in the genome, you have the opportunity to not just identify the genes driving the cancer, but genes that affect how this man is going to handle the drugs that you are going to give him," says Dr. Les Biesecker.

If that works, the guy avoids the cost and the physical toll it takes to basically experiment with other drugs. But -- and this is big -- the technology is so new, there is concern health providers will jump on test results that lead nowhere.

"You could go down the absolutely wrong avenue. You may start to do additional testing. Additional testing of family members. That's when costs could get out of control," says Dr. Leonard Sender, director of the Genomic Center at Children's Hospital of Orange County.

He says it's up to doctors to exercise restraint as they begin playing with this powerful, but risky, new tool.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.
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One aspect of the cost of genetic testing that is rarely addressed is the effect of genetic testing on the cost/availability of health insurance. Test results can provide not only an answer to a medical mystery, but can also reveal the potential for disorders that person may never develop.

Will providers be allowed to consider a "genetic predisposition" an "existing condition" for the purposes of screening new applicants? If, as your segment notes, genetic testing becomes less expensive, it must be tempting for providers to use testing as a screening tool for new applicants.

I would be very interested to see this question covered in a future segment. Keep up the good work!

Genetic sequencing is a power diagnostic tool, which if used properly, may be able to detect and characterize diseases that would otherwise be misdiagnosed or mistreated. Genetic sequence information is much more specific and scientists are still in the process of interpreting it. However once this information is understood, it opens many possibilities to personalized medicine and the correct use of pharmaceutics. How many viable drugs had to be shelved because it was toxic to a subgroup of the population? The genetic information could potentially identify who can tolerate the drug and who can't thus providing more and safer drug options. How many diseases are blasted with different medications/ chemotherapies in hopes that one will work? The genetics information may be able to identify which medication will work best for the particular disease varient a patient is suffering from thus leading to better recoveries and less discomfort experienced by the patient. However the information is extensive and it may be too much to expect physicians to understand and interprete the data. Perhaps specialists in medical gene sequence interpretation should be developed to ensure this tool is used correctly. Something along the line of pharmacists for who specialize in medications.

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