Genetic testing for disease and general genetic research are relatively new fields that are already producing exciting results. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, the eventual goal is personalized medicine. The general idea behind the research is that each person has a specific and unique genetic makeup. This individualized blueprint affects everything from how likely you are to develop certain diseases to how your body reacts to specific medications.

Family history

One of the most significant ways genetics research is currently being applied in healthcare is through detailed family histories. Due to genetics, you are statistically more likely to develop a disease that one or more first- or second-degree relatives also have.

You’ll want to start by listing your parents, children, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and nieces and nephews. If applicable, note any significant health diagnoses for each person and their age at death. You and your doctor can then use this family history to understand your personal risk factors and decide whether you should undergo genetic testing for specific conditions.

Of course, not everyone has access to their family history or relevant information. If you don’t, work with your doctor to use what you do know to your advantage.

New applications for genetic research

Genetic testing is also starting to be used to determine whether patients will respond well to specific medications. For example, testing can predict whether a particular breast cancer treatment is likely to work well for you. In addition, children with a specific type of leukemia can be tested to find the optimum dose of chemotherapy.

These applications are still on the cutting edge of genetics research. Over time, researchers expect that genetic testing will expand to determine enhanced risks for specific diseases and gain more accurate diagnoses. Personalized medicine is also likely to become more common, with genetic testing showing the best treatment for a specific individual with a particular illness.

Concerns that must be addressed

Genetics-based medicine may seem futuristic, but increasingly, that future is now. Of course, like any other breakthrough, legal and ethical concerns are still being worked through. Common concerns include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Equal availability of genetics-based treatments for all
  • Costs associated with personalized medicine
  • Data privacy
  • Possible discrimination at work or by health insurers

These concerns are currently being taken into account as research moves forward. And these are issues inherent within the medical system as a whole. Research may shine a new light on old problems and lead to novel solutions that benefit patients across the board.

What should I do next?

If you’re interested in learning about genetic testing for disease prevention can help you live a longer and healthier life, talk to your doctor. They can help you develop a family health history, decide whether you could benefit from genetic testing, and point you toward clinical researchers who may be doing studies in your region. While scientists are just starting to unlock the full potential of genetics research and testing, it is not too soon to get started.