Knowing your DNA code could be the future of medicine

If you've ever been concerned that you are pre-disposed to certain diseases because of your genes, you aren't alone.

Currently, testing to get your DNA code costs thousands of dollars, but there are some medical centers offering tests for free as part of their research projects.

Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, for example, is one that's asking patients to volunteer. President Obama has also proposed an initiative to fund facilities committed to DNA research and share their results with scientists worldwide. Here's why.

"The goal of our large-scale research project is to learn which differences in DNA sequence influence your health and risk of particular diseases," says Dr. David Ledbetter. He's the Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Geisinger Health System.

Dr. Ledbetter says his research so far has determined that 1 in every 50 people has a genetic change that puts them at an increased risk of certain cancers, or at a heightened risk for heart disease, heart attacks, or high cholesterol based on family history. 

Once an at-risk patient is tested and made aware of potential health implications, they give that information to their doctor for prevention and treatment options. The data is also saved electronically in a 'biobank' and can be passed along to family members.

"Having your parents or grandparents health information and DNA we think in the future will be extremely valuable to informing your doctors about your individual health risks," he says. 

Aside from research projects studying the genes of healthy volunteers, DNA sequencing is also used to test people with a strong family history of certain diseases. Krystle Goverick got tested at the recommendation of her mother's doctor.

"The results of my testing were that I was BRCA1 positive, and, due to my family history of a lot of people having breast cancer in my family, and along with the genetic mutation, the chances of me having breast cancer was about 90 percent," Goverick says.

She decided to have a double mastectomy.

Goverick says her odds of getting cancer from the BRCA1 gene have been reduced to 5 percent and her insurance paid for the DNA testing and preventative surgery.

"I definitely think it's very important for a person to understand about their genetic make-up. I believe there are a lot of genetic mutations out there that haven't been discovered yet, and I feel like the more people that are tested, the more genetic mutations that they can come up with, and that'll help treat patients and prevent a lot of diseases and cancers," she says.

Researchers are hoping in the next 10 years to be able to determine the individual genomic profile of every baby born in the United States. They say it will help determine, prevent and reduce future health risks.