DNA Videos: Genetic Testing on NBC Nightly News

DNA Videos: Genetic Testing on NBC Nightly News

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted February 13, 2008 in DNA Podcasts and Videos, DNA Testing

Yesterday, Robert Bazell of NBC Nightly News continued the series, The Truth About DNA, with The downside of DNA testing (video below). I admire their willingness to tackle such a timely topic but with segments of less than three minutes, not much can be explored. The general gist of the genetic testing videos is negative with a focus on Myriad’s BRACAnalysis genetic test for breast and ovarian cancer risk. Of course, it’s safer to recommend we all stay away from the scary unknowns of genetic testing but I firmly believe that educated consumers should be allowed to make their own decisions without the controlling arm of babysitters.

In the above video which was aired, Hank Greely of Stanford Law School says he’s “scared of what’s going on in the genetic testing marketplace.” Bazell follows up with a blog post saying, “There is a frightening lack of government regulations.”

Are they easily scared? Or is there merit to their fear?

I think it’s a bit of both. When it comes to our DNA, any sane person would feel some trepidation especially if they’ve got an overactive imagination like me. It seems we have two choices:

  1. Get a glimpse of what might be in store for our future health.
  2. Cross that bridge when we get to it.

I’d guess most of us fall into the second category and there’s nothing wrong with that! Life is far from certain especially when it comes to the predictive power of genetic testing. I may test positive for a cancer gene and get run over by a bus tomorrow. Would it matter then?

Yale genetic counselor Ellen Matloff believes it would because of the impact genetic testing results have on extended family. Here’s her golden quote:

The genetic test you have is only as good as the interpretation.

Matloff recommends that people undergoing genetic testing send a letter to their family members inviting them to an open discussion of the results. Here’s a sample letter you could use courtesy of me:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I bought a $1,000 DNA test last month. It wasn’t painful at all. Although when I saw that I might have inherited the gene for short temper, I wanted to put a fist through the wall. So I guess I was right to blame you for everything. Let me know if you want to talk about our DNA some more.



More videos below the jump.

The following video explains how genetic testing works (but really doesn’t say much of anything).

The next video is a guide to genetic tests featuring genetic counselor Ellen Matloff .



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Comment by Barry Starr Subscribed to comments via email

Great post. I worry about people who think that there is a number 3…namely that they will be able to use a genetic test to for sure tell if they will get cancer or Alzheimer’s or some other complex disease. They might think that a genetic test is not just a glimpse into what might be…

Barry, That’s a really important point!

Comment by NA

One must also take into account that a genetic test result is only as accurate as the testing process allows it.

NA, Absolutely. Test validity is critical.


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