The $4,000 Personal DNA Test Counselor

From the moment we’re conceived, our genes encode in us, every instruction our
bodies will ever need. These genes built our organs,
our muscle, our brains. They help us grow and keep us healthy. But the tiniest deviations
also make us sick. Many of us are carrying these deviations without ever knowing it. And this women wants to
find those problems early. Before it becomes to late. My name is Carrie Blout, and I’m a preventive genetic counselor. We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of
the entire human genome. With this profound new knowledge, human kind is on the verge of gaining immense new power to heal. In the early 2000s, scientists decoded the first human genome. Sense then, we’ve discovered
the genetic footprint of thousands of illnesses. And if you have a health problem, or come for a family with health problems, your doctor might have ordered a DNA test. To diagnose and treat you. But it’s only very recently that hospitals have started screening the genomes of seemingly healthy people. Healthy people like me. The goal of these screenings, is the holy grail of modern medicine. To map each persons risk of disease. In order to treat conditions early, or prevent them from ever developing. Today, I’m heading to Boston
to get my own DNA screened. In our studies, we’re finding that there’s 10 to 15 percent of people, walking around that we would expect, to either have either
symptoms of a condition now, or to develop it in the future. Carrie has a masters degree in genetic counseling. Four years ago, she
joined a research program affiliated with Brigham
and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. The program has been screening the genomes of healthy people. And through her research, Carrie’s helped more than a 100 patients
makes sense of their results. Sometimes I’m telling
them really scary stuff. That they just weren’t anticipating. One example is a women who had a variant for breast cancer. She had no idea she was at risk. She got screening for that. And actually found out she
had early breast cancer. Which she wouldn’t of been found to have, that early anyway, if we had not initiated things. Early findings like this prompted Brigham to quietly open the Preventive Genomics
Clinic in November last year. So why does she want to be tested? Really what’s her motivation here? It’s led by geneticist Dr. Robert Green. And Carrie has seen
it’s first few patients. It’s one of the worlds only clinics offering DNA testing for
preventative purposes. I’m here to become it’s
seventh ever patient. Hi Aki. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. Before we get started, can you tell me a little bit about what
drew you to this clinic. And why you’re interested
in preventive genomics. I thought about it a lot and if there’s something that I can prevent, then I think I’d rather know now. Okay. So I’m a little worried I’m
opening a Pandora’s box. Okay. But I’m excited to do this. Carrie is trained to guide patients through the complicated
world of DNA testing. And that starts with helping
patients choose the rite tests. You might have even tried one
of them you can take at home. Like 23 and Me. But 23 and Me looks at less
then one percent of your genome. To identify your risk of
developing just 13 conditions. The workup I’m getting, will sequence virtually my entire genome. Placing a special focus
on about 3700 genes, that are associated with
more than 2500 conditions. Which means if I go
through with this test, I could find our a whole lot more. How would you feel if you found out that you were at risk for something that we didn’t currently
have a treatment for. That you might develop later in life. Even if I knew now that
I’d only live till 40, I think I’d want to know that. So I can plan my life around that. I’d want to make sure that my wife would be okay after I died. And I think I’d still wanna know. Right. And you’re exactly the type of patient that we want to see in this clinic. Some people really just don’t wanna know. And some people are really
information seekers. And want all the
information they could get. So this is a good test for you. Open your mouth wide, say ahhh. I’m just gonna check your reflexes. And after Dr. Green checked in, Take a seat here. I got my blood drawn. For all this, by bill today
will be just over $4000. Which includes this hospital visit, as well as the cost to
sequence my DNA and analyze it. It’s a lot. Sense most of it isn’t
covered by insurance. But take a look at how much the cost of sequencing has come down
over the last two decades. This is why genetic testing
has become so widely available. And why the professionals
who help patients make sense of them are now in such high demand. Salaries have soared. With genetic counselors earning
a median $80,000 last year. That’s more than twice
the median pay, in the US. Great, you’re all done. Your results will take about two to three months to get back. So we’ll give you a call and set up that follow up appointment
for when they’re ready. And while I’ve settled back into my life in San Francisco, machines extracted the DNA
from the nuclei of my cells. Then more machines read
the six billion base pairs that make up that DNA. Which geneticists then
analyze for clues of diseases. Then two months later.. [ Carrie On Phone] Hi, this
is Carrie Blout calling, your genome report should be back soon. So I wanted to schedule an appointment to see your for results. If you could give me a call
back when you have a chance. Thank you. And I made my way back to Boston. When I’m returning results to patients, there’s not always a treatment or a cure for something that we find. And those conversations
are very difficult. Because we’re telling them something that could affect their life. And I think the most difficult part is when someone is really stressed, and I can’t make it better. It could be very hard. But you’re also helping them. And that over powers any of
the challenges of the job. Hi Aki, how are you? Good to see you again. Good to see you too. Lets go to my office. Sure. I want to reassure you. We didn’t find anything that’s scary. What a relief. Lets got through what we did find. So the top report called
Monogenic Disease Findings, that would be if we found
something in your rite now, that we thought might impact your health. Either now or in the near term future. Basically we didn’t find
anything in that category. What we did find in you, is that you have three carrier variants. This is the type of variant that when you go to have children, if the sperm had the same
variant in it, as your egg did, the child could have it. I see. One of the things that
you’re a carrier for is Xeroderma of Pigmentosa. It is a photo sensitivity condition. So you’re very sensitive to sun. Even in mild sunlight, you could get blistering
or burning in the sun. But for this gene, it’s
actually one in 4000. So one in 4000 is the chance that my child would have this disease. Exactly. So, pretty rare. I was really nervous coming
into this meeting today. But what do you think
I should tell my wife? I think you can tell her that it was good. That you had a boring genome. Which is the kind that I like to see. Before this goes mainstream, Carrie and her colleagues
still have much to prove. Will the price of these tests
be worth the lives they save? Will certain results
make patients anxious? Will they lead to unnecessary procedures? But with enough research, this technology could become
standard for all of us. Maybe one day we’ll all get sequenced. Maybe even at birth. And have that information to inform our healthcare over time. Then we’ll have a lot more genetic counselors like Carrie. Helping us prevent what we can. And plan for what we can’t. They’ll guide us from one
milestone, to the next. Through childhood… Aki Ito. Adolescence. And adulthood. All the way to old age.


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