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Researcher Backs 'Gene Chip' for Every Estonian

Source: Photo: ERR

The director of the Estonian Genome Bank says every adult inhabitant of Estonia should have a gene chip containing the 700,000 most common markers, which would be used for evaluating disease risk.

"People know that they will die. I have not met anyone who thinks they will live forever," Andres Metspalu told ETV. "But people need to know what diseases could strike, so they could defer them. Healthy life expectancy is important, not the absolute number of years of prolonged life."

With Angelina Jolie in the news for opting for a double mastectomy upon learning she had a close to 90 percent risk of breast cancer, Metsalu said: "If there is a 70-80 percent risk of a disease, that is a very serious risk. What if you boarded a plane and were told that there was a 80 percent chance it would crash?"
 
University of Tartu professor Katrin Õunapi said there are currently no tests where all the information that could be gleaned from a blood sample is actually used. Rather, individual disease risks are examined for a positive or negative.

"We still aren't doing preventive genetic testing very often," she said. "If we look at breast cancer, yes, we do study high-risk families and since 2007 we have tested for two breast cancer mutations, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2."

In Estonia, there are a few who have opted for radical surgery due to a genetic risk of cancer.  "Looking at these statistics, we see that about 30 people have received the news that they have that high risk mutation, but only three of them have said they will go in for surgery to have their breasts and ovaries removed." Only one of them had not developed cancer at the time of the operation, she added.

But Metspalu said research showed that 75-80 percent of people would modify their behavior if they learned that they have a disease risk.

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