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since the marketplace is still so new and people are still only beginning to learn how to interpret the results. "When you get these tests done, you sign a lot of pieces of paper that sayyou know what you're walking into," he says. "They even at
one point in your waivers say, in caps, 'You may find out things you don't want to know.'"Knome founder George Church of Harvard Medical School says the U.S. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prevents insurance companies from upping their premiums or dropping consumers who discover bad things from genetic testing. However, he adds, the act "doesn't stop consumers from gaming the system." If a patient finds out hergenome gives her a clean bill of health, she might cut back on insurance coverage reducing the pool of money insurance companies use to pay for expensive care for sick subscribers. Or if a patient learns he's at a high risk for something such asLou Gehrig's disease, he may preemptively sign up for all themedical coverage money can buy. Such scenarios ultimately aren't fair to insurance companies, Church says. He suggests that the insurance industry now needs to team up with geneticists to brainstorm ways to work within GINA while still discouraging abuses of the systemWhile it's common practice now, DNA evidence wasn't used to convict or exonerate criminal suspects until 1986, when Richard Buckland was exonerated despite having confessed to rape and murder near Leicestershire, England. A year later, the first person was convicted in America on the basis of DNA evidence. According to the Innocence Project, more than 250 people in the U.S. have been exonerated through postconviction DNA testing since 1989.
Victor McElheny, author of the new book Drawing the Map of Life: Inside the Human Genome Project (Basic Books), says some cancer patients today are already having parts of their genome and sometimes a tumor's genome sequenced. "When you do cancer chemotherapy, you're operating pretty much by guess and by God," he says. "An awful lot of cancer drugs only help maybe one-third of the people who get them.You'd like to know what the person's own genetic predispositions are, so you can start picking the right drug the first time."Cancer treatments are the first in a line of predicted "personalized medicine" breakthroughs, in which a person's genetic information helps doctors tailor the treatment to the patient's specific body chemistry. One big problem, however, is that well-trained doctors in genetics are still a rare breed today. And patients, more and more, will need good genetic advice.Matthew Bower, a genetic counselor at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, says his field is entering an age of data overload. A's, C's, G's and T's can crowd out useful medical knowledge and counseling as much as it can help bring it on. "There are not enough genetics professionals to be managing everyone's genome out there," he says. And without good counseling, he says, people can still make bad decisions.