The future of medicine and healthcare is here
By Greg Forbes
The future is now. Yes, the age of science-fiction becoming science-fact is dawning. Robotics and medical engineering has progressed to a point where true artificial intelligence is on the horizon, to be realised, probably, within the next 50 years, if not sooner. Medical technology is sprinting ahead, and while medical technology it is still considered solely for rehabilitation and therapy, its application in human enhancement is not only being debated, but is being advanced.
The UK’s Channel 4 recently broadcast a documentary on "How the Rich Live Longer". It’s a fascinating show on the totally strange things wealthy people will do to extend their life, and search for immortality. And while I laughed off the colour light therapy as well as the preservation of the head/brain through cryogenics, one segment in the show did grab my attention – genetic testing to discover your individual genetic predisposition to ailments, diseases and the bodies eventual degeneration. Aside from common sense, medical research supports that as we are all genetically unique, the treatment of our bodies in terms of medicine and therapies would and should also differ. As we all work pretty much the same way, yes, we can use generic medication for broad treatments, however the best results would be achieved through medication and therapies that are specifically created for our individual genetic makeup.
In addition, if we are able to look inside our genetics to find out early how our body will deteriorate and in what area we are most susceptible then we will be able to not only treat the ailment early, but in many (and in future perhaps all) cases be able to completely treat these before they even happen. This will lead to a longer, higher quality of life. This is how the rich will live longer – they will be empowered with the knowledge of their bodies, and be able to access the incredibly advanced treatments that will be/have been developed. But, for now, let’s concentrate on the benefit of knowledge.
What if you knew that your body was more susceptible to serious damage as a result of endurance sports? Would you keep running? Or what if you knew that your body, because of a particular gene, didn’t react well to certain medications? Would you still happily pop that pill, knowing that you would probably experience the worst end of the side effect scale? Safely, I can assume that you would probably ask your doctor or pharmacist to give you something else.
The surprising thing is that this already exists. You are able to map your genetics and determine exactly what medications will work for you, and which ones you should avoid at all costs. What’s more is that it is not only available for the uber wealthy in London, but it is available for middle class South Africans. Last December, when I finished watching the Channel 4 documentary, I did some research into what genetic testing was available in SA. For Christmas, I bought my ‘significant other’ a series of the tests available through DNAlysis, including genetics reports that would determine the bodies specific mapping to sport (strength vs endurance), diet (if your body needed a fattier or more carb diet), medicine (what medicines the body likes and doesn’t), and an oestrogen test (if your body produces too much oestrogen). Their results from their test was simply fascinating, and lead to a change in diet, exercise, and medicine use.
Not too long after that, I was offered an opportunity to undergo the Medicheck test, which would provide an indication as to what medicines I should be using and which I shouldn’t. I received the DNA collection kit via courier delivery. Following the very simple instructions, I swabbed, labelled, and sent it off for testing. About three weeks ago I received my test results, and last week I was able to get through to my doctor who went through the report and reviewed the results against the medications he had prescribed. For personal privacy reasons, I am not going to disclose the medications I am on, nor for what I am being treated, however I will state the following:
The tests revealed that, genetically, my body may not metabolise the active ingredient in some antidepressants. This means that, if I was being treated for depression, I would need to be very careful of which medications I used, because some would simply have no effect. Further, the tests revealed that my body would react to certain cholesterol medications and may case myopathy (a weakness in the muscles due to the medication causing the muscle fibres to not work properly). In addition, the tests showed that there was an antifungal treatment that should be completely avoided, a series of other antidepressants that would not only not work, but probably cause a lot more issues, and one very alarming result was that medication that may be used to treat a stroke or heart disease would cause internal bleeding. On a less hectic note, if I was to take something for heartburn, I would need to take 400% more than usual for it to have any effect owing to my body metabolising the medication faster than most. Also, if I was ever to have an organ transplant, the medication that aims to reduce the body’s rejection rate would need to be substantially higher.
Okay, so while none of my existing medication needed to be adjusted, my doc did state that the report was exceptionally valuable and would certainly guide him in making future decisions about the medication he would prescribe. I must admit that hearing him say that was a great relief, but highlighted that I, before this result was given, was completely oblivious to the dangers and risks that I faced.
This leads me to ask though, why don’t doctors and medical aids especially insist (or demand) that these genetic tests be performed at least once when signing on to a new plan? Knowing this would not only significantly change how we are treated medically, but also substantially fine-tune the medicine, medical insurance, and general insurance industries. If you and your doctor are empowered to know what is best for your unique genetic makeup, then you are ensured of a far more effective and efficient medical prescription service.
I am, and have been for a long time, a Discovery Health member, and having seen how they have extended their benefits (and requirements) to include more about you and your lifestyle, it would be incredibly beneficial for them to be able to access each and every one of us individually to the genetic degree and provide us with a plan that is uniquely designed for our bodies. Here’s is hoping that Discovery Health, as well as all the other medical aid companies decide to include these tests in their plans. I have been notified that the DNAlysis team is in talks with the medical aid companies already.
Simply put, this information should not be a ‘nice to have’, it should be a ‘must have’. Everyone should know what their bodies may or may not be more predisposed to, and should be given the opportunity to institute the correct course of action/medication to ensure themselves a long, happy, and pain free life.
And, while the test may not be available as a standard medical test at government healthcare facilities, the tests can be done privately through DNAlysis (at a cost of around R3500). I urge you to consider having these tests done for yourself, and to gift these to your loved-ones. It is an exceptionally valuable process that arms you with information that can have a direct and very real impact on your life.
This article originally appeared here: http://gregforbes.co.za/mygenerx/