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NPR Examines the $1,000 Genome

NPR's health blog, Shots, is doing a series on the "$1,000 Genome" that began to air on Morning Edition this week.

As the cost of sequencing a person's genome "has dropped faster than the price of flat-screen TVs" and it takes only weeks to get the information, the technology is starting to enter medicine, NPR reports in its first part.

But "the idea of widespread sequencing is setting off alarm bells," with concerns over the accuracy and interpretation of results and how to convey them to patients.

The second segment features two individuals who have had their genomes analyzed: Nobel Prize winner James Watson and Stanford professor Mike Snyder.

For Watson, the results revealed why he had trouble controlling his blood pressure with beta blockers — his genes make him more sensitive to the drugs than most other people.

But a first, flawed reading of his sequence also suggested that "he should already be dead, killed by a terminal illness," NPR says. Apart from that, Watson says he did not learn very much. "Really, nothing came up," he says.

Snyder's genome suggested that he was at risk for diabetes, despite a lack of family history, so he started monitoring his blood sugar levels and caught the beginnings of the disease early. "So, some people might say that actually, my genome saved my life," he says. (Our sister publication Clinical Sequencing News covered this here.)

But when his wife tried to increase his life insurance after his increased risk became clear, "the price shot through the roof," as federal laws prohibiting genetics-based discrimination don't apply to life insurance or long-term care insurance.

"Is it far too soon for most people to venture into the dark corners of their DNA?" NPR asks.

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