DNA Sequencing – Can You Handle the Truth?

By Anna Middleton

Maybe, genetic knowledge is indeed power.

Would you want to know that you or your children could be predisposed to developing Alzheimer disease?

Having your genes studied  is cheap (about $99) and easy (just spit here). And according to 23andMe (one of the commercial companies that do genome sequencing), ‘knowledge is power’!

But what happens if a person’s predisposition for an unpreventable, life-threatening condition is detected?  Is knowledge empowering then?  A recent study by researchers in Australia, showed that it is.

The study reviewed the medical and social sciences literature published about the reactions to predictive testing for both early-onset inherited Alzheimer disease, as well as late-onset Alzheimer disease.  It considered the views of both the general public, as well as those with a family history of Alzheimers, and found that people were motivated to have genetic testing so that they could plan for both their and their children’s futures. It also showed that there was ‘no obvious adverse psychological effects to those who have been tested’.

Other research from the USA showed that people were more likely to alter their health behaviour in response to a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s than a risk based on their sex and family history alone. Put another way, the study showed that being given a genetic risk result, as opposed to a general numerical risk, sparked people into taking measures (even unproven ones) to try to prevent Alzheimer’s from occurring.

Thus there was something about having genetic information that was empowering.  While most of us might think we would race around like squawking headless chickens if we knew we had a susceptibility to developing Alzheimer’s, psychological research suggests otherwise.  Maybe, genetic knowledge is indeed power.


Read the BBC coverage of our work in relation to the Alzheimer’s gene here.

Or read the Telegraph’s article about the effects of at-home testing on the NHS.