Your Genetic Future

Last summer, Andy Kessler came out with new book, The End of Medicine, which despite its decisive and severe title, is in fact a nifty ramble around the frontiers of medical scanning. A former VC, Kessler was particularly compelling in assessing the business prospects of the store-front scanning businesses - BodyScan and others - and how they have tumbled in the last few years. The problem, as Kessler described it, was in the business model: Once you get people in the door for a scan, if there's something wrong they go to a doctor. If there's nothing wrong, they don't come back. No repeat business. And so the sector crashed, with the SEC sniffing for corpses. Such are the perils of trying to bring the frontiers of science to the consumer market. What works for hospitals and insurance companies may not be such a sure sell to patients/citizens. The tricky nature of direct-to-consumer high-tech medicine come to mind whenever I hear about some new genetic profiling startup. They've been around for a couple years now; DNA Direct was one of the first one on the block, I think they started in 2005. Recently there's word of the awkwardly named 23andMe, a startup that looks to be backed by Google, and has generated much scuttlebutt accordingly. The NIH/National Human Genome Institute and the FTC have issued some cautions over the past couple years.

This is indeed a quandary: On the one hand, we should all know all we want about our genome (Harvard's George Church has initiated the audacious Personal Genome Project to undertake just such an effort - Church also happens to be an adviser to DNA Direct). On the other hand, the FTC is right to caution that "having a particular gene doesn’t necessarily mean that a disease will develop; not having a particular gene doesn’t necessarily mean that the disease will not."

Still: how many of us don't want to know what our genome might or might not say about us?

Thomas Goetz1 Comment