Genetic Fortune Telling: Can DNA predict your future?

What is Genetic Fortune Telling?

Soon, there will be a time when a newborn will receive its first report card as soon as it is born. Well, this isn't like any ordinary report card it will be a DNA report which will predict the newborn's I.Q., hobbies, interests, and more importantly the diseases they can have in the future like chances of getting a heart attack, acquiring cancer, taking drugs and much more. The most amazing thing is that geneticists can also build models to predict any human trait that can be measured, including behaviors and doctors will say that this person is destined for a life of crime and recidivism. And that one will be neurotic, depressed, or smarter than average. Because of the huge genetic studies, the science making these report cards possible has arrived. 

How does the 'Genetic Future Telling' work?

The Genetic Fortune Teller analyzes the patterns of genes to make predictions. Blueprint of As and Ts, and Gs and Cs of DNA molecules, is made by mapping the human genome to predict your future health. By analyzing hundreds or even thousands of DNA variants associated with a given disease, by using advanced computer models, scientists came with a terminology called 'Polygenic Risk Score'. After that, the Polygenic Risk Score will predict the probability of acquiring major diseases. The new scores can now identify as much risk for disease as the rare genetic flaws that have preoccupied physicians until now. It will be like that you will get a report card at a young age and it will show your score for certain diseases. For instance, you are in the 90th percentile for heart disease, 50th for breast cancer, and the lowest 10 percent for diabetes. A genetic variant may not affect a person's disease risk that much, but representing all of this complex genetic information into a single number that can predict the probability of getting a disease, is amazing on its own. We can say that Genetic Fortune Telling is a breakthrough in the field of biotechnology.

At first, such predictions were hit or miss, but they are getting more accurate now. According to one test, it can guess a person's height within two centimeters, and for this 20,000 distinct DNA letters in a genome were analyzed. And as the prediction technology improves, so will the number of tests will increase. In California, an iPhone app is being tested by Doctors in coronary artery disease. Hybrid Genetics launched a commercial test that estimates the breast cancer chances of any woman from a European background, not only a few who have inherited broken versions of BRCA genes. Among these, risk scores are the most useful for heart disease because you can change your real-life risk by going on a diet or taking a cholesterol-lowering statin pill. A doctor can predict the chance of a heart attack in the next 10 years. Now genetic scores could be added to those models, making them more accurate. The most important and amazing thing about DNA predictions is that they are measurable at any time of life, unlike most risk factors. For example, If you test a group of 18-year-olds, none of them will have high cholesterol and diabetes, and you can’t say who is at the most risk. But with a $100 test, we can get stratification at least as good as when someone is 50, and for a lot of diseases. In near future, it may be possible that all of our genetic information may be collected and stored at digital libraries to which we will have instant access, and the 'pathogenic risk' score will be common in our daily lives. People need to have knowledge about this information so that they understand the true potential of their polygenic score. This way they can change their lifestyle accordingly and can have a positive impact on their long-term health.

How Genetic Future Telling can help Pharmaceutical companies?

Pharmaceutical companies can also use these scores in clinical trials of preventive drugs for illnesses such as Alzheimer's or heart disease. These days, the problem with drugs is that no one knows who will get the disease, so it’s difficult to know whether a preventive drug is working or not. But If companies could test the drugs only on people with a high risk of Alzheimer’s, it would be much easier. Future drugs may be labeled as “Recommended for those with polygenic scores 90 and above.”

Some doctors also believe that risk scores will give people the push they need to think harder about their well-being. “I love the idea of polygenic risk scores because the future is health, not medicine,” says Steven Tucker, a physician who practices in Singapore. He likes his patients to use wearable devices and trackers, and risk scores could be combined with those. For instance, someone at high risk for atrial fibrillation might wear a smartwatch with a heart monitor built into it. “My patients want to manage the future,” says Tucker. “If you can define it more accurately, there is a better chance you can do something about it.”

Draw Backs of Genetic Future Telling

There are some drawbacks of Genetic Fortune Telling. Who wants to know they might develop Alzheimer's? What if someone with a low-risk score for cancer puts off being screened, and then develops cancer anyway? And what will a person do if he/she comes out positive for a disease that has no cure? And the most controversial question is how will parents and educators use that information? And the important thing is that polygenic scores are not diagnostic tests. Sometimes doctors and other health professionals may get this wrong. It doesn't tell whether you have a disease or not, or you will definitely have the disease. It is just a probability of developing the disease at a particular period of time. 

For it to be used as a regular clinical practice Polygenic scores must go under rigorous evaluation by the medical community.