Adoptees find answers by unlocking DNA - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

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Adoptees find answers by unlocking DNA

By taking a blood, saliva or tissue sample, researchers can start the process of unlocking a person's human genome, basically a blueprint of the DNA that's unique to each person.  (Source: WAFF) By taking a blood, saliva or tissue sample, researchers can start the process of unlocking a person's human genome, basically a blueprint of the DNA that's unique to each person.  (Source: WAFF)
While this health puzzle is far from solved, genome sequencing provides a glimpse into the family health histories for Allison Marona and the 130,000 thousand Americans who are adopted ever year.  (Source: WAFF) While this health puzzle is far from solved, genome sequencing provides a glimpse into the family health histories for Allison Marona and the 130,000 thousand Americans who are adopted ever year.  (Source: WAFF)
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Staying healthy is hard enough for most of us, but thousands of Americans face an extra challenge. When it comes to medical information, their family tree hits a dead end. 

Yet, soon, their frustration may be replaced with answers. The key is a map of their DNA. 

When most of us walk into a doctor's office, we're told to answer questions about our health. Yet, when Allison Marona Is asked about her family history, she literally draws a blank.

"When you're going to a doctor's visit, there's obviously paperwork to fill out and they're asking past medical history and any chronic illnesses in the family," she said. "It's one of those things where you sit back and say, 'I'm not 100 percent sure!'"

Allison grew up in Huntsville, but she was adopted in New Orleans when she was six-months-old. She says her mother was living in a home that took in teens who wanted to finish school. That's where Allison's information stops.

Yet, it's also where researchers at HudsonAlpha are starting to make a difference by filling in the health gaps created by the unknown. 

"They're missing that piece of information and so you can't use that as a guide for disease risk," explained Kelly East, a Genetic Counselor with HudsonAlpha. "So, that's a place genomics and genomic testing can kind of step in and fill in the gaps because you don't have a family history." 

This August, doctors, people with rare and undiagnosed diseases, and adoptees will gather at HudsonAlpha to learn more about whole genome sequencing.

By taking a blood, saliva or tissue sample, researchers can start the process of unlocking a person's human genome, basically a blueprint of the DNA that's unique to each person. 

"There are some things we can look at and make some predictions about risk and genetic risk factors that can increase or decrease risk for disease," said East.

The brain trusts at HudsonAlpha admit admit this is not an exact science. HudsonAlpha Executive Vice President Howard Jacob told us it's still a real challenge to pinpoint variants that indicate a higher risk for certain cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer's and Diabetes.

"So, the challenge now is, we don't know, what's the combination of little genes that put you at big risk? All we can say is that if you're more than average, we should probably pay attention," Jacob said.

While this health puzzle is far from solved, genome sequencing provides a glimpse into the family health histories for Allison Marona and the 130,000 thousand Americans who are adopted ever year.  

"Of course, everyone wants to know if Alzheimer's runs in the family or any kind of cancer or anything, but I think a general assessment would be great to have," said Marona.

While the potential benefits are obvious, not everyone will be able to afford whole genome sequencing. Right now, the cost is $6500. 

HudsonAlpha has set up a fund to help patients pay for this test. However, they must be a patient of the Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine to qualify for the funding assistance.

If you'd like to sign up for the Genomic Medicine Conference in August at Hudson Alpha, just click on this link

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