YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — DNA advances might be most famous for helping to solve old cold-case crimes.
But some doctors say a bigger impact — in terms of the number of people helped — could come from the way information about an individual patient’s DNA could help tailor medical treatments to that person.
And more changes could come soon. How soon?
“I would say months, not years,” said Dr. David Kann, a cardiologist and WellSpan’s medical director of what’s called “precision medicine,” who is overseeing WellSpan’s “Gene Health Project.”
Enrollment is free in the project, which blood to study (alongside other U.S. hospital systems, working with California-based Helix) the DNA of 100,000 people and use the findings in ways that can help large populations. But people who enroll can also let doctors take their personal DNA into account when they design treatments.
How much can that help? Kann recalls identifying a genetic condition in one woman.
“And we’re now able to reduce that person’s risk of developing a cancer over her lifetime from about 80% to about 20%,” Kann said. “We expect to find hundreds of those over time. And it’s very, very exciting.”
Breast cancer, for one, is far more common among women who have a particular gene. Or there’s a gene some men have.
“Men by the age of 50 with that gene have about a 50% chance of having a heart attack,” Kann said. “We would therefore be able to start preventive measures and reduce your risk to everybody else’s.”
Other healthcare systems are participating in similar DNA studies. Enrollment in WellSpan’s project is free, and it’s available to people who aren’t current WellSpan patients, although prospective participants need to set up a “MyWellspan” profile to enroll.
WellSpan says participants will get their results about six to eight weeks after their initial blood draws. It says about 1% to 2% of people will learn they have genetic conditions that put them at heightened risk for life-threatening conditions — risks that can be mitigated if they have the knowledge.
The genetic profiles will also include non-life-or-death information, such as “where their family might be from and why they like sweets versus salty food,” Kann said.