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Disease predisposition - Do we shape our genes or do they shape us?

Published : Friday January 20, 2012 | Posted in : General Health
genetic research

To many people genetic predisposition is a controversial and sometimes scary topic, but it doesn’t have to be. If dealt with the required understanding and interpreted correctly, it’s an extremely helpful gift from modern science.

Genetic predisposition testing can tell us whether we or potentially our children, will develop a health problem. This is because geneticists now have the ability to identify specific DNA markers or mutations that can indicate a person’s propensity to develop a specific health problem. This is not the case for all conditions, but slowly but surely, the list of different genetic markers that can identify a person’s predisposition is being discovered.

The science behind genes is incredible and according to an article in the Daily Mail recently, scientists are looking for new IVF techniques to be able to eradicate incurable genetic diseases from a person’s genome. They intend to use a donor egg, and insert a mother as well as father’s DNA, to eliminate the risk of mutations. Understandably this is a hugely controversial topic, and I am not really sure how I feel about it personally, but I use it simply as an example to illustrate the ability of genetics. Every time a new gene or mutation is discovered, there is hope for new, more targeted treatment.

Every single cell in our body carries a full set of genetic information, or a genetic code. It can tell an incredible amount about us, our hair colour, eye colour and sex. Although we are all unique it’s interesting to know that there is research to suggest that most humans are 99% alike, with only the most subtle differences within our DNA that distinguishes us from one and other. But it’s also important to know that an incredible amount of who we are is determined by our environment.

Just because your DNA is indicating the presence of mutations representative a specific condition, it’s not set in stone, unless you already have the condition. However, with some diseases the presence of specific DNA markers indicates a higher risk than others, which is why it’s important that when you decide to take part in genetic predisposition testing, you have a clear understanding of what your results mean. We aren’t always simply at the mercy of our genetic code, in fact, according to the NHS; there are very view conditions that simply develop because we inherited a mutation. Many different factors can determine whether we develop a particular condition, not just genes. As one geneticist suggests, our DNA is still being written every single day and changed through the things we do.

So with the majority of conditions, if a predisposition is detected early enough, there might still be a chance to change your environment enough to make it less likely that you’ll develop them. This is not the case for all conditions yet, but the direction research is moving to shows that this could be a very clear possibility.

Regardless of whether you do a home test or request a test from your doctor, it’s important that you receive the right support and counselling, to help ensure that your results don’t cause you any unnecessary distress or trauma. You can visit the NHS page on genetic counselling for more information about where this is available and why this is extremely important, after genetic predisposition testing, to have someone to talk to.

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