Vanderbilt Medical Center’s New Blood Test: Is Gattaca a Legitimate Fear?

This article appeared in the Vanderbilt Hustler today. It’s kind of neat to see how advancements on our campus relate to the topics we talk about in class.

The article talks about a “breakthrough blood test” called Corus CAD that Vanderbilt Medical Center now has access to. The test can calculate risk of heart disease (specifically, obstructive coronary artery disease) based on a patient’s “genomic makeup” as well as age and gender. Vandy is one of the few institutions across the country (and the only one in Tennessee) to offer this new test.

Personally, I think it’s exciting to see Vanderbilt leading the way in medical progress. But the test’s ability to examine “the unique genomic makeup of individual patients” and then turn out the probability of heart disease did remind me a little of the film Gattaca. In Gattaca’s society, Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is given his life expectancy at birth thanks to a prediction of heart disorder. His early sentencing as a “degeneerate” then completely determines his social status.

I don’t understand all of the implications of this new test. Is the new blood test worthy of celebration or concern? Is it a good thing to have a test this personalized, or does it open the door to a Gattaca-esque society?

-Michelle C.

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~ by Michelle Cohen on February 15, 2010.

3 Responses to “Vanderbilt Medical Center’s New Blood Test: Is Gattaca a Legitimate Fear?”

  1. I agree that it is very exciting that Vanderbilt is a leader in the latest medical research and technology. Though it is somewhat reminiscent of a Gattaca-esque society, I think we are still very far away from such an extreme. We learned about personalized medicine possibilities during my biology class last semester, and the idea I got was that it is mainly to help treat people for diseases in the most effective way. (Note, I am by no means a biology guru, and this may not be 100% accurate.. what follows is a summary of what I took away from the class.) We learned about how not all women are responsive to chemotherapy as a breast cancer treatment, so compiling individual genomic makeup maps could open the door to foresee whether or not the chemotherapy would be effective for different people. That way, if chemotherapy would not help a woman due to her specific genes, they could skip the painful process and go straight to other prevention methods — fighting the cancer in the quickest, most efficient way. However, my understanding is that scientists are very far away from executing this in actuality; it’s just the ideal they are striving for. ANYWAYS, my point is that I think the purpose of this tests really focus on treatment of inherited diseases, not genetic engineering to produce perfect children. However, if the technology develops, perhaps that would become a threat. It’s very interesting to think about all the possibilities… especially since the research is going on right across campus.

    • Thanks for your response – your information is really interesting, and I agree with you. A big part of the problem with the Gattaca society was that they were able to diagnose Victor, but they weren’t able to actually do anything about it. I think I had similar concerns with the new blood test – that it would condemn people rather than treat them. The idea of a more personalized and therefore healthier treatment for diseases like cancer is a positive one, and I’m glad that Vanderbilt is at the front of it.

  2. This is where genetic research is headed: personalized medicine (finding out what genes are involved in disease susceptibility or how much of certain drugs to administer and creating genetic tests to identify these results before action is taken). A good example is warfarin treatment (http://labtestsonline.org/news/warfarin071005.html). So its not as far away as people think.

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