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Extreme Gene Testing: One Researcher’s Experience

Comstock/Thinkstock(STANFORD, Calif.) -- When you look at 56-year-old scientist Dr. Michael Snyder, it’s unlikely that “diabetes” would be the first word to come to mind.

“I don’t look like the type of man who has diabetes,” he said. “I have a thin frame and stay active.”

Based on his appearance, most other doctors would agree. However, Snyder’s first-of-its-kind research, through which he subjected himself to frequent lab tests over a period of more than a year, revealed that he did, in fact, have the condition -- and it allowed him to confront it earlier rather than later.

But it also afforded him a rare opportunity: to see the link between his genes and illness play out right before his eyes.

Snyder and colleagues at his lab at Stanford University have spent the past 14 months sequencing his genome -- frequently -- and following the changes in his health. He discovered his personal risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, a lethal blood disorder and skin cancer.  He saw his genome change in response to viral attacks on his body, including the development of diabetes after catching a respiratory virus from his children.

When Snyder noticed changes in his genome consistent with diabetes, he alerted his personal physician, who was skeptical at first. Laboratory testing, however, revealed an elevation in his blood sugar that lasted several months.

He changed his diet -- cut out sugary desserts, began exercising more frequently, and eventually lost 15 pounds. In his lab, these changes were evident in his genome, and on re-check at his doctor’s office, his diabetes was gone.

Snyder discovered other interesting ways to apply his personal genome monitoring to his own health. He figured out on his own the dosage he needed of his cholesterol-lowering medications based on his personal sequencing of liver proteins. He was able to draft a lineup of dosages for other medications, too, including the anti-diabetes medication he anticipated he needed.

It is easy to see how many in the general public might be interested in emulating Snyder’s approach. However, Dr. F. Sessions Cole from St. Louis Children’s Hospital warns that Dr. Snyder’s response to infection or development of type 2 diabetes may not be appropriate to apply to others -- at least not yet.

“Applicability to the general public will require larger studies to determine patterns,” he said.

For now, Snyder will continue to sequence his own genome regularly, following the hidden changes in real time.  He avoided developing complications from diabetes because of this monitoring. Before his study began, he saw his personal physician once every three years for a check-up.

“If I hadn’t seen the diabetes in my genome,” he said, “I wouldn’t have known it was there.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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