Chief Science Correspondent
Imagine if your physician held all of your genomic, proteomic and metabolic information on record.
Every gene would be sequenced, every protein tracked, and every chemical reaction constantly monitored.
According to Stanford genetics professor Michael Snyder, integrative personal omics profiles (iPOP) could be the medical care of the future.
I had the privilege of hearing Snyder speak at the Experimental Biology conference last April in San Diego. During his lecture, Snyder spoke of a somewhat unconventional experiment, in which he served as the subject patient in a 14-month study tracking his omics profile.
For the study, Snyder’s genome was sequenced, and the transcriptome was assessed to measure the expression of proteins and metabolites. His changes were assessed on a monthly basis.
Snyder actually unintentionally found an interesting factor during the experiment; he developed Type 2 diabetes. By monitoring his metabolome, Snyder was able to track the improvement and eventual obliteration of his disease, which he accomplished through diet and exercise.
Because the symptoms for Type 2 diabetes can develop gradually, the disease can go undiagnosed for many years, according to the UK-based Diabetes Forum. Yet a patient monitoring their health with iPOP would potentially be able to catch Type 2 diabetes, along with almost any other disease, almost immediately.
iPOP has definite advantages for health care. However, the system is not without its drawbacks. First, iPOP would require patients to surrender essentially all of their personal genetic information. During his presentation, Snyder said he believed all patients should be sequenced, even proposing that all women be required to test the omics profiles of their fetuses before giving birth. Snyder said he believed some, but not all of this information would be provided to the patient, while other information would be withheld. On who would withhold the information, Snyder was not very clear.
Although millions of patients have offered their genetic information for various projects, Scientific American writer Abdul-Kareem Ahmed said the majority of Americans are still concerned about the implications of universal genomics. One major concern is that employers and health insurance providers might discriminate against individuals who appear predisposed to certain medical conditions.
Additionally, some patients may not want to know their entire medical profile, as they may learn about their predisposition to certain incurable diseases. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council warns patients, “This might raise issues because some of this genetic information could relate to the risk of future onset of other diseases that you might not want to know about and that doctors might not be able to prevent or treat.” Additionally, the Council adds that one patient’s choice to be tested might affect the outlook of the individual’s family members, who may not wish to know their medical profiles.
Finally, as access to even minimal health care remains a concern around the world, the idea of a universal personal genomics does not seem practical. One billion people do not have access to adequate medical treatment as of last January, according to Global Issues. Although the cost of the iPOP system is currently difficult to estimate, Snyder said that he believes it could become affordable for the average American within the near future.
Although iPOP may not be practical for every person at the moment, Snyder’s project demonstrated that the technology we currently possess is enormous and has the potential to change the world. Physicians now must partner with the governments around the world to develop the best way to integrate that technology into society in order to best serve the citizens within it.