The future of genetic testing - FOX Carolina 21

The future of genetic testing

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GREENWOOD, SC (FOX Carolina) -

23andMe is a genetic testing service that claims to help people better understand themselves, through their DNA.  

The service provides more than 60 reports that address four areas; your ancestry, personal traits, wellness reports, and your carrier status report, showing  if you are a silent carrier of a condition that could be passed to your children.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jill Hagenkord explains the goal of 23andMe.  

"Central to our mission is to make access to your genetic information easy, accessible and affordable, so you can do this all from the comfort of your own home."

23andMe is a direct to consumer genetic service, with reports approved by the FDA. This new perspective into our health has changed drastically in the last decade or so. And it could open doors to new kinds of health care, all based on your genetic makeup.

"What 23andMe does is again we use this information to better understand disease and treatments, but also to better understand the genome by reports to our healthy curious consumers.  But that same database is incredibly powerful for labs like Greenwood Genetics," said Dr. Hagenkord.

Dr. Hagenkord recently visited the Upstate, and The Greenwood Genetic Center.  She spoke to the employees about what 23andMe does, and the possibility of collaborating in the future.  It's something the Director of the Greenwood Genetic Center, Dr. Steven Skinnner, is open to.

"I think there are some potential relationships that could be beneficial as far as understanding genetic data, and I would think there is a lot of potential research that could come out of that database with the right relationship and partnership."

The center in Greenwood provides genetic services for the entire state of South Carolina, and also sees patients from around the world.

Their main focus is on intellectual disabilities, birth defects and autism, but as the world of genetic testing changes, so does the future of what the center could do.

"Lots of people are talking about precision medicine or personalized medicine, and I don't think we've arrived to where it needs to be but we're starting to see the impacts.  Particularly in oncology and cancer and certain specific gene mutations, might direct what type of chemotherapy or therapy is available or recommended." 

As genetic testing goes more mainstream, there's the question; do you even want to know what's in your DNA?

Dr. Hagnekord said, "We try to make it really clear to people before they come into the experience that this is what's going to happen when you look at your DNA and these are the types of things you could see, and it's not for everybody."

Dr. Skinner adds, "Genetics knowledge and genetic data is still new and people are a little frightened of it and not sure of the power of that knowledge."

23andMe includes a list of genetic counselors in your area to contact with questions after you receive your results. The Greenwood Genetic Center has those professionals built into their system.  

Winn Surka is one of the Genetic Counselors for the Center.  

"I am their interpreter.  I speak to women who have a 6th grade education, I speak to women who are physicians, and I try to explain what is happening in their stressful, scared moment."
 
Surka said she doesn't have a problem with consumer based genetic testing, but knows her job will be even more important in the coming years.  

"That's really where we hope that genetic counseling and genetic professionals can help the general population, to make that bridge from their lives to what this test result is."

The professionals we spoke with stress that the results of a DNA test don't mean a life or death sentence.

"The changes in our genes don't always dictate what will happen, so just because there's a change doesn't mean you're going to have a genetic condition or medical condition, and just because you don't have it doesn't mean you're not going to get those conditions too," said Dr. Skinner.
 
The Greenwood Genetic Center also has plans to grow.  Right now they are working with Clemson University to add a new building on their Greenwood Campus.

The plan is to start a Center for Human Genetics at Clemson, where research would be done with students and faculty, alongside geneticists at the Greenwood Center.  That building should be done by the summer of 2016.

We also asked Dr. Skinner what he thought the future of human genetics is.

He believes we could one day get to the point where our complete genome would be done at birth, and then stored in a database.  He believes it could be used to screen for diseases and to put together an individual "health plan" for the future.

Click on the links for more information about 23andMe, the Greenwood Genetics Center and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

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