Gene-testing is a technology that scans DNA instructions you inherited from your parents to spot genetic disorders. Diagnostics firms and health providers suggest that gene-testing methods can not only find out what diseases you are prone to but also provide customized solutions to nip them in the bud and herald a new health era for you. This new technology is now gaining ground among Indians, especially the young.
Dr. Amit Verma, consultant (molecular oncology and cancer genetics) at Max Hospitals in New Delhi, said, "Knowledge of the genetic make-up (favorable vs unfavorable) may give the opportunity to take a pro-active step to avoid unfavorable factors and prompt the person to visit the doctor at initial symptoms."
Dr. Verma is witnessing a surge in healthy young individuals coming to his clinic for gene-testing. The reason to opt for such testing is simple- it can identify increased risks of health problems, allowing one to choose personalized treatments or assess responses to treatments.
Dr Amol Raut, CEO of the Pune-based gene diagnostics firm GeneSupport, said, "The concept of gene testing is quite new to the entire medical field. However, scientifically, it is an established concept. The broader strategy would be to create awareness among the doctors first, followed by awareness among the people."
Dr. Raut further added, "Unfortunately, genetically associated factors cannot be reversed but the action will certainly minimize the possibility of acquiring bad health. The genes related to all conditions such as cancer, metabolic diseases, congenital diseases, lifestyle or other diseases are scanned, which helps in identifying missing pieces of information or even inappropriate information in genes."
People are usually born with such altered information and scanning the genes helps in understanding the tendency, chances or risk towards a particular undesired body condition. Dr. Raut said, "Further, such techniques can also be used to identify the stage of a disease as it happens in case of cancer progression determination. This information can be used to further change or modify therapy, diet, exercise and even lifestyle in certain cases to provide personalized information."
Dr. Kshitiz Murdia, an IVF expert at the Indira Infertility Clinic in New Delhi, said, "Genetic testing will be the future as we would be able to eliminate certain inherited or genetic disorders from families who have those. In the last four-five years, genetics has progressed a long way through. With the new generation sequencing possible in the human genome, the whole genome can be sequenced and can even identity single gene disorders and some 600-700 other disorders."
Dr. Murdia too is seeing an increase in the number of people who want to go in for genetic testing. He said, "At present, we are able to identify aneuploidies (presence of an abnormal number of chromosomes in a cell), thalassemia (inherited blood disorder) and other disorders which are a common cause of abortions or disability causing childhood disorders."
Gene sequencing can be used to screen new-born babies and commercial egg and sperm donors to find if they are free from any genetic disorder. Dr. Murdia said, "Most importantly, embryos can be tested for rare genetic or hereditary disorders by next-generation sequencing platform (whole genome scanning), enabling transfer of healthy embryos back to the mother and delivering a normal child."
The cost of gene tests depends on the number of biomarkers being analyzed. Dr. Raut said, "This increases the price bandwidth for tests which may range from an average of Rs.1,000 to Rs.10,000. The price range from lowest to highest may cover one to three conditions to several conditions, respectively. The next-generation sequencing platform is the future that can be used to scan the entire human genome and detect all known biomarkers. In such cases, the average cost may run into a few lakhs (of rupees) including associated consultation from the doctors. However, such comprehensive analysis is the future of diagnostics."