Would you donate your DNA?

YOU might donate blood to save someone's life. But, would you donate your blood, your DNA, and your most intimate medical secrets on a promise that it may help save a life years from now?

These are the questions asked in an article today in the New Scientist

Once again, the public is being asked to donate the code that makes each of them a unique individual to a study intended to link genes and diseases. Once again, the promise is cures of devastating diseases. Would you join the group that will donate a small blood sample?

You have a while to decide--unless you live in the UK or in Iceland. The project called Biobank is not expected to start in the US in the near future--it's still in the planning stage, according to the New Scientist. Here's how the Iceland, UK, and US projects differ:

The Icelandic studies focused on spotting gene variants in people who already have specific diseases or family histories of disease, and comparing them with those of healthy people. The proposed British and American studies are far more ambitious, as they will recruit people who are healthy at the outset and then wait to see which of them falls ill. Scientists will record environmental factors, such as people's diets, in real time, rather than relying on patients remembering what they ate in the past, in the hope this will help reveal factors other studies miss.

In addition,

...the organisers of the US project are considering using microchip-based devices such as rings, bracelets and body patches to keep a continuous check on volunteers' heart rate and blood oxygen levels. Participants' cellphones could be rigged up to transmit data on physiology and diet, and microchip-based sensors could be placed around the body to record other data such as exposure to radiation, or even what they consume, including alcohol and tobacco.

The £61 million UK Biobank project, funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the government health ministry, will rely more heavily on health records and diagnoses of family doctors to keep tabs on its subjects. It will also take detailed recordings of subjects' body fat, blood pressure and weight, use lifestyle questionnaires, and take blood and urine samples when people are recruited into the study.

Are we getting ever closer to carrying our genetic codes on our foreheads and transmitting to some "secure" database our actions, environment, and even our thoughts?

Marie Godfrey, PhD 





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