One example of genetic technology that is already widely used in medicine is in prenatal care. During the first trimester of pregnancy, most American women undergo some sort of genetic screening for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. It's based on a simple blood test. Genetic technology is also currently used to screen adults for certain conditions, including certain forms of dementia and Lou Gehrig's disease, though this is mainly in patients with a family history that puts them at high risk for these conditions [source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory].
In some cases, genetic technology can also tell us how patients will respond to traditional therapies. Dr. Ginsburg notes that genomic information can help ensure that patients are getting the right medications and in some cases the right doses of medication based on DNA analysis.
Despite these technological advances, widespread "genomic medicine" has yet to be realized. According to Dr. Paul Doghramji, a family physician in Collegeville, PA, patients are increasingly interested in genetic technology, but the science hasn't quite caught up in terms of practical application.
"Most basic health screening is still done by talking to patients about their personal and family medical history," he says.
This is partly because diseases often arise from the interaction of multiple genes, with at least some input from the environment. These interactions limit the utility of genetic technology in personalized medicine, at least until gene-gene and gene-environment relationships are better understood in the human context.