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The New Genomics

Genomics

We humans have, in every cell, 2 copies of each of the 23,000+ genes that determine our heredity, one copy from each parent. The old genetics was about being able to say, for example, “Your child has a 25% chance of having Down’s Syndrome”; the new genomics enables us to say “Untreated, you have 3 times the population-average risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but there are things you can do about it”. We can do this because since the Human Genome Project we have been learning to identify the SNiPs ( Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) on our genes. These small changes in our DNA can have large effects on our chemistry. You can have both copies of the gene normal, both copies abnormal (with the SNiP) or one of each. Having both the same is termed homozygous, having one of each heterozygous.

I have been studying, researching and using genomic data for 7 years now, and while it does not explain everything, nor allow us to treat everything, it is a valuable additional layer of information and understanding, which often helps us to select treatment modalities. The big problem has always been that it is so expensive.

23andMe also started 7 years ago, a spin-off from Google with some of their money in it. They must have achieved economies of scale by buying very large numbers of the “chips” needed to run genomic tests, so cutting the price down to $100 for analysis of all the genes and SNiPs they are able to test. This is about 700,000 SNiPs, which is actually more than we know what to do with.

Their “offer” has been through a number of changes over the years, but in November 2013 the FDA in America came down on them heavily and made them stop marketing their PGS product — Personal Genome Service. The rather unexpected result of this has been a much improved test and reporting system. That is because the old 23andMe report was a long series of disconnected reports on single gene SNiPs, taking no account of the interactions between genes. But in genomics it’s all about the interactions; between the Phase 1 and Phase 2 genes in liver detox for example.

Now 23andMe – https://www.23andme.com – just send you a very long list of numbers. But that’s OK because like the cutting edge of computing or the internet, this area has gone open source. There are several websites out there that will interpret your results for a modest donation. In fact the one we are working with is called NutraHackers – https://www.nutrahacker.com . They just ask for $37 (that may well go up, but even so), and you can even ask them to contact 23andMe directly and get your report. We now have a practitioners’ discussion group working with and advising NutraHackers, so new information will be shared and will upgrade their reporting and interpretation. The first version of the upgraded report should be available very soon.

It still needs a human in the system though, and an expert one, who is able to over-ride the computerised report sometimes, to present you with treatment choices and to show you the pitfalls. YOU are the expert on your own body and your own health problems, so together we should make a great team.