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An Overview of Genetic Testing and Personalized Medicine

The Future of Medicine

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Updated May 17, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Personalized medicine is the wave of the future of medicine. Patients will undergo genetic testing, and their risk for, or genetic code for, a certain disease or condition will be determined, and a very personalized approach to treating them will result.

Smart patients understand the bigger picture of genetic testing and personalized medicine. Here are some links to help you understand that overview:

Genetic testing is the act of taking some cells from saliva, blood, hair or skin and determining the body's genetic make up from those cells. Even before completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, scientists understood that a body's genetic makeup could give them plenty of information about human medical problems and development of disease and conditions.

That genetic testing may answer the questions a medical professional has about the cause of a disease or condition. You can learn more about how genetic testing works, and why it has its pros and cons.

The results of the testing then give scientists, researchers and medical professionals more information about how one person developed a certain disease, or their risk of developing that disease in the future. When that foundational knowledge becomes available, it may suggest a tailored way to help that patient treat the disease, or prevent development of that problem. When medicine is tailored to a specific patient's genetic code, it's called personalized medicine.

You can learn much more about personalized medicine and how it is developed.

Genetic testing for future disease development, and its current potential for creating more problems than it solves, suggest a number of ethical, moral and legal questions that remain unanswered. People who fear the "slippery slope" point to the potential for discrimination or eugenics. Others fear the privacy and security questions. Still others wonder how the legal system will keep up.

Learn more about GINA laws against discrimination using genetic code.

Learn more about the ethical, legal and moral questions involved in genetic testing and personalized medicine.

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