For the founder of Google, genetic testing uncovered a serious risk factor. His wife Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder of 23andMe, describes what happened.
Question: Describe how genetic testing has affected your life.
Anne Wojcicki: To me it’s very interesting that it’s so controversial the fact that is it not deterministic. Because throughout my life in medicine, I very rarely get a test back that is so deterministic. So, even when I was pregnant and I get a variety of tests back and they say, okay this is cutting your risk down for having a Down Syndrome baby, but it’s never 100 percent, unless I did the amnio, which I did not do. And even things like cholesterol, if I find out I have high cholesterol, again it’s a risk base. It means I have a risk factor for heart disease, but it didn’t tell me anything specific. Some people even do very well with having high cholesterol. It doesn’t say specifically you are going to die of heart disease. So, in my opinion, I’ve been very comfortable with having diagnostic tests that tell me that I might be at higher risk, or lower risk based on some information. So for the LRRK2 example that my husband has, he already knew that he had a family history of Parkinson’s disease and now he knows that there is a genetic basis for it and that he carries that genetic basis for it. He already knew that there was the family history, he has that there, and he has gone through a lot of the literature. One of the things that he’s found is that it’s not that well studied just yet because there was a relatively recent discovery, but there is information there about things you can do to prevent Parkinson’s. So, that could be changing your diet, exercising more, and potentially drinking coffee. And those are all three things that he does.
And again, going to the critics. All three of those things are great for his health regardless. So, he has lost weight, he is much more vigilant about eating vegetables and he is trying to drink a little bit of coffee. So, I’m really happy that we got that information because even if it comes out later that, oh, he has other genes that decrease his risk, and therefore he’s sort of an average risk for Parkinson’s; one, I am used to getting that kind of information and that kind of change in healthcare, and two, I’m happy because he made a lifestyle change that fundamentally made him healthier.
Recorded on September 30, 2009