Even though others didn’t believe him at first, Michael Snyder knew that something was wrong when his sugar levels were increasing more than normal. His own physician didn’t believe it, but through studying his own genetics he found that he has Type 2 diabetes.
None of his family members had it that he was aware of, so people assumed that he didn’t fit the profile. His DNA, however, had other plans.
Michael Snyder, an Ascherman Professor, Chair of Genetics, and the Director for the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine at Stanford University, is trying to make technology more relevant for the practices of personalized medicine. Using his own “integrative personal omics profile,” or iPop, he was able to diagnose himself.
He is becoming the face of personalized medicine and is the driving force behind the idea that diseases can be controlled just from getting a blood sample. Many crucial diseases could be stopped short if we are armed with this information through an individualized approach in medicine. However, doctors are not jumping out of their seats to deal with the stickier ethical issues that could surround “omic” interpretation.
One such issue is that it isn’t always cut and dry; many health issues stem from a complex interaction of many different genetic factors.
“There remained a question about what one could really learn from genomes. Maybe you wouldn’t learn anything. Maybe you might learn things that would be harmful, like learning that your father isn’t really your father or that you’re going to get Huntington’s disease,” says Snyder. “People were very concerned about these things. They still are. These issues have not gone away.”
Snyder uses himself as a guinea pig and gave blood about twenty times in order to have his genetic information examined during times that he was healthy and ill. Because he was willing and understood the risks of knowing all this information, he made the ideal candidate.
While the thought remains that with more information, biological markers can be found and can be stopped but there are still many questions. Will having that much information cause trouble? “You can never be sure of what your genome is going to tell you,” he says. “But I live by the motto that more information is always better than less information. I’m the kind of person who wants to know if I have a terminal disease so I can plan appropriately. Yet, I recognize that’s not for everyone.”
However, he also believes that the right age to start using iPop is at birth, so that potential health issues can be identified and dealt with right away. Because he was able to identify his own type 2 diabetes, he was able to stop the effects before there was any lasting damage. Ultimately, he is calling for a change from a symptom-based way of looking at health, to taking matters into our own hands. Knowing our “omics” would be the first step, and doctors would be more like health coordinators, instead of only giving you a pill for the cough you have.
There is still work to be done to ensure that once the information is obtained that it can be read in a way that is useful to clinics. Snyder, however, still sees a very different future in store for medicine and how patients are treated.
For more information about this, check out the Pacific Standard: The Science of Society.
Take a look at this video featuring Michael Snyder in Personalized Medicine: How I Used Genomics to Discover, Track and Stop My Diabetes. Don’t forget to come hear him speak the ASHG luncheon event, October 19th!