Over the years, we've addressed the issue of genetics many times. For example, we've looked at how genetic testing can impact the underwriting process, and we've also discussed how one particular piece of our code could determine our risk for Alzheimer's. But the topic is going to get a bit murkier, if wider, because there's a new player in town, and it's one of a new breed of specialty providers that may help us learn more than we really want to know:
"We believe individuals from the general public have a vital role to play in making personal genomes useful. We are recruiting volunteers who are willing to share their genome sequence and many types of personal information with the research community and the general public, so that together we will be better able to advance our understanding of genetic and environmental contributions to human traits and to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness."
That's the mission statement of a new program called the Personal Genome Project. What they're trying to build is nothing less than a massive genetic database, which they hope will be a resource for researchers looking for cures for everything from baldness to MS:
"The more genetic information can be made open and publicly available, nearly everyone agrees, the faster research will progress."
At least, that's the hype, and the hope. Certainly, the more information we have available, the more scientists can cross-check information to determine a given population's risk for a particular illness, and perhaps to find better treatment options, even cures. There doesn't seem to be any charge to participate, but the "cost" is that one agrees the genetic info is shared (pooled) in the database. Of course, there'd be no personal identifying information there, just data.
Now, what does this have to do with insurance? Well, if nothing else, it'll be one more data set for underwriters and actuaries to determine risk for folks with certain illnesses and conditions. And I rather like the idea that the private sector is undertaking this effort; it holds a great deal of promise.
[Hat Tip: Holly Robinson]