New mom Melissa Christensen runs marathons and eats her vegetables, but during a DNA mapping test she learned she is still a candidate for heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
The healthy 30-year-old said the test gave her a health warning straight from her own DNA.
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"It doesn't mean for sure that you'll get any of these health conditions," said Sharon Alford, the principal researcher at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital. "There are things you can do to stay healthy regardless of your genetic markers."
"That's good," said Christensen, who is one of the first few hundred Americans to see a personal, practical benefit from the Human Genome Project, which identified all of the genes in human DNA.
Because they can map an individual's DNA, researchers now use a simple blood test to check for different genetic flaws that often give rise to the eight treatable diseases that kill and cost the most, including skin, lung and colon cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease.
"We could identify people who are at risk early in their life long before they become overweight or become inactive or start smoking," said Colleen McBride of the National Human Genome Research Institute.
Researchers hope the information will send a more powerful message to people who may not focus on healthy eating and exercise, if they learn they are predisposed to heart disease or other ailments.
"And where maybe before they weren't as committed, now here it is in black and white and it's reality so they feel more motivated," said Alford.
Right now they test people only for preventable diseases. Part of the experiment is to determine how much grim information people actually want to know about their own bodies.
If they offered a test for incurable diseases such as Alzheimer's or leukemia, Christensen said, she probably would not opt for those results.
"I don't think I would because it might be scary," she said. "I'm a worrier."