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September 22nd, 2010
08:44 AM ET

TEDMED: What do your genes say about you?

[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/health/2010/09/15/tedmed.anne.wojcicki.tedmed"%5D

Do you know what your genetic ancestry is? Do you know what diseases you're at risk for?

In her TEDMED talk, Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe talks about why you might want to consider genetic testing through a service such as hers. Your genes can tell you about appropriate dosing for drugs such as Warfarin, used for blood clots, and Plavix (clopidogrel), which is for preventing future strokes and heart attacks.

Genetic testing can also reveal your risks for specific diseases, she says. That may sound scary, but Wojcicki argues that it can make people have healthier habits. Her husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, began exercising more and watching what he eats after learning about his risk for Parkinson's, she says.

But such services have come under fire recently. University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan pointed out in the Philadelphia Inquirer that there is not enough known about how genes interact with the environment and other factors to know what your risk would really be. Genes aren't everything; "not having a gene for a disease does not mean you won't get that disease," he writes. "If your house is full of radioactive radon gas leaking up from underlying rocks, your risk for lung cancer is high no matter what genes you do or don't have."

Since Wojcicki's presentation, 23andme and similar services have received warnings from the Food and Drug Administration that their products cannot be marketed without FDA approval. However, the FDA did not say that such genetic testing services should be taken off the market. 23andme expressed disagreement with the FDA's decision in June.  Home genetic testing isn't cheap, either - 23andme charges $499 for its complete ancestry and health test.

Here's more about genetic testing and the issues it raises from the National Human Genome Research Institute.

TEDMED is an annual event that brings together dozens of luminaries from a variety of fields to "demonstrate the intersection and connections between all things medical and health care related: from personal health to public health, devices to design and Hollywood to the hospital." TEDMED 2010 will take place from October 26 to 29 in San Diego, California.

Editor's note: Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be attending TEDMED in October and his coverage of the conference will be featured in "Sanjay Gupta, M.D."


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