Genetic Testing Foresees Disease

The results can be frightening, but can they motivate you? For the first time, doctors are trying to use genetic testing to get people to live healthier lives.

New mom, Melissa Christenson runs marathons and eats her vegetables, but the healthy 30-year-old recently discovered she is a candidate for heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis - warnings straight from her own DNA.

It doesn’t mean for sure that you’ll get any of these health conditions. There are things you can do to stay healthy regardless of your genetic markers.

Christenson is one of the first few hundred Americans to see a personal, practical benefit from the Human Genome Project. Since science can now map the DNA that makes you you, doctors can now pinpoint the genetic traits that might make you sick if you’re not careful.

“We could identify people who are at risk early in their life, long before they become overweight or become inactive or smoke cigarettes,” said Colleen McBride with the National Human Genome Research Institute.

A simple blood test checks for eight different genetic flaws that often give rise to the eight diseases that kill and cost the most. Among them - skin, lung and colon cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease.

“I’m hoping we find that this information really hits home with people and where maybe before they weren’t as committed, now here it is in black and white and its reality so they feel more motivated,” said Susan Alford, Principle Researcher of the Henry Ford Hospital.

The idea is to inspire healthy people to stay that way so right now they only test people for preventable diseases, but this is also an experiment to see how much grim information a person actually wants. Doctors are anxious to know what emotional barriers stand between patients and technology, but for Christenson, this knowledge is power and the generic advice to “take your vitamins and exercise” now has very new and very personal meaning.

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