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DNA Testing

Rajul Bhargava, Director, CHL Hospitals

Rajul has been associated with CHL for over 11 years now, prior to which he has worked with Emerson, Johnson Matthey and Centocor, and even incepted two companies – Central Laboratory and Vanilla Health

Hundreds of years ago, a priest was called-in Rome to sort-out a problem. A lady was being questioned for infidelity and her husband was fuming. How did the priest solve the case? He whispered in the child’s ear, ‘Who is your Father?’ and the two month old infant pointed to the husband. The Priest said, ‘my work is done here’. Things have surely changed now. We do not need a smart and logical priest; just a blood sample and approximately $100. For most, genetic testing does take care of uncertainty and may help them take an irrefutable decision to modify their lifestyle.

I am sure you are aware of The Human Genome Project, where collaborators from across the world spent billions of dollars to identify almost 25000 human genomes. For 13 years, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Energy and universities across UK, Europe, and China collaborated to essentially make the blueprint of a human body. The crux of the project was to develop the database of all the sequences of three billion chemical base pairs that make-up the DNA of us, Homo Sapiens. President Obama said in 2013 that every dollar spent on the project returned $140 to the economy. As we all know, healthcare is the No.1 cause for bankruptcy across the world. Hopefully the on-going analysis on the project will help the world dwell deep into everyone’s past and future, so they can predict what could happen to their health.

Thanks to the Genome project and the new technologies, today, the DNA Tests can not only be

done at home for cheap, but your chances of knowing if you are at risk of having Parkinson’s disease or Cancer are higher. How much of this is authentic? we are yet to discover. Could this be used as an excuse to change your lifestyle? Yes. Is insurance paying for this? Maybe. Is this testing ethical? Are we playing God? Will this make our lives predictable for good? We do not know this yet. Could predicted genomes pairing and prediction change over the course of life in accordance to your habits? We are still contemplating.

I personally believe, if we are to trust the Genome Project and the database, then yes, the scorecard could help you take medical steps much before that mutation could hit you. It would also take care of deficiencies in your body if you have any, but is DNA your destiny? No, I do not believe that it is. We are that close to predicting the Nature, at least that is what we think; but can anything be sure in this ever-evolving world?

Remember last year’s Trump administration’s drama of DNA testing to reunite the children of illegal immigrants with their parents. Some results were shocking and lot of ethical issues were raised on the use of DNA testing. Maybe some tests proved right to wrong or vice versa, but many children were left as orphans as a consequence of this testing. Most commonly, in the western world, infant genetic testing raises a lot of ethical issues. If the government & ‘data mafias’ are reading our emails and WhatsApp messages, then do you really think your genetics results are safe? A lot of agencies, pharma and insurance companies would pay top dollar for that kind of data gold.

Only in due course of time will the acceptability of DNA testing result in smart, rational and ethical testing of our genomes

I truly believe that too much information on yourself could be dangerous. Naturally, we are aligned to raise a baby as she is born. Some negative DNA testing results over her future could make us hypercritical and/or maybe insensitive. Proper counseling is of course a must, but access to such guidance remains an issue. Such testing could also impact a decision ‘of life’ for children who would apparently carry any mutation. Tests for ethnicity are really popular. You can even gift the kits to your family for them to find out their origins. But would this initial excitement lead to bitter results and push their original beliefs?

These DNA tests are not unethical, but the usage could be. What if you tell a person that he does not carry any cancer markers and he has no risk from cancer. That person, if not counselled properly, could turn-out to be a smoker. Lot of clinical laboratories are hence against the DNA testing.

I personally, in every law of unpredictability, believe in the process of constant evolution. Only in due course of time will the acceptability of DNA testing result in smart, rational and ethical testing of our genomes. We are here to make this world a healthier place and make sure our children breathe happily. As people of science, our utmost duty is to take this forward ethically and never commercially.

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