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DNA and Disease Prediction

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 23 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Dna Predict Predicting Disease Test

DNA has become an extremely useful tool for predicting disease. By allowing medical professionals to identify genes in DNA that are markers for disease, a person can make appropriate lifestyle or similar modifications to help lower the risk of disease. For those diseases that are inherited, identifying a parent who is a carrier but does not express the disease can also help parents make informed choices regarding a potential pregnancy.

Predicting Heart Disease

The incidence of heart disease continues to rise in the United Kingdom (UK) and many other parts of the world. Heart disease is a complex interplay of lifestyle factors and genetics. Recently, researchers in the UK found a method for identifying those individuals who have an elevated risk of heart disease. They found that telomeres - miniscule DNA strands that are found at the ends of chromosomes - could provide valuable information about a person's chances of having heart disease. It was found that shorter telomeres suggested a greater risk of developing heart disease in men aged forty-five to sixty-four years old.

The telomeres were measured in leukocytes, also known as white blood cells. Researchers believe that as telomere length decreases, a person's chromosomes are more likely to mutate. This relates to the protective effect of telomeres, which help to prevent damage to chromosome ends. The research can hopefully allow medical professionals to eventually predict someone's risk of heart disease, which will mean allowing us to find new ways to prevent heart attacks.

Predicting Brain Disorders

Brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are progressive disorders that lead to destruction of brain cells and functioning. In ALS, muscle use and mobility are lost, leading to death. Parkinson's disease results in tremors and compromised movement. Like ALS, no cure exists for Parkinson's disease, which means that research is vital to help scientists find effective treatments or a cure. New research has, however, provided clues about predicting these diseases.

In a research study based in the United States, scientists looked at data from people with ALS and Parkinson's disease as well as those who did not have the diseases. They found differences in genes that allowed them to predict those individuals who had an increased risk for the diseases.

These differences were noted after researchers investigated the axon guidance pathway. This pathway involves a complicated group of chemically mediated messages that are important in the brain during foetal growth. They work to support and repair the 'wiring' of the brain during a person's entire life. There were numerous differences in the pathway genes that relate to these diseases. In addition, researchers also found pathway genes that identify people at a very high risk of ALS, several thousand times that of the general population.

For Parkinson's disease, they discovered pathway genes that suggested a very high risk of approximately four hundred times that of the general population. It is hoped that for individuals who have a higher risk of the diseases, scientists will be able to create drugs that can target these pathways.

The Importance of Caution

While research into DNA and disease prediction is vital to preventing disease, there has been a worrisome side effect of this newfound knowledge. Home tests have cropped up on the Internet and in advertisements virtually everywhere, claiming to analyse a person's DNA to find genes that are markers for diseases such as cancer.

The results, however, are inaccurate and generally mislead the consumer. Government investigations have been conducted on many of these companies, with results inaccurate and false.

The tests constitute a fraudulent money-making scheme on the part of the company and should be avoided by consumers. It is recommended that if a person wishes to have genetic testing performed, that they see a physician for more information and reliable testing. DNA holds great promise for predicting disease and it is an exciting area of research but consumers should always remain cautious and ensure that they obtain testing and information from a medical professional.

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