How Doctors Could One Day Use Your DNA To Cure You

Published: Nov 04, 2016

“I don’t mean to be morbid,” Eric Dishman told a friend as he was winding down his job at Intel. “But this may be the last time you see me.” Dishman, a longtime leader of the company’s health research division, was preparing to die. The kidney cancer he’d been diagnosed with in college had caught up to him two decades later. His kidneys had failed, and the chemo drug that kept him alive was incompatible with dialysis.

Eric Dishman is finally cancer-free after more than 20 years—and, following a kidney transplant, he now heads the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program at the National Institutes of Health.Joe Pugliese! But that friend happened to work for a DNA sequencing company, and he offered to analyze the genome of Dishman’s cancer cells. What could it hurt? Weeks later, Dishman got two 1-terabyte hard drives by courier, loaded with his genomic data. Another copy went to his doctors. And just days before he was to start dialy­sis—he already had the surgical port in his arm—his doctors called. Dishman’s kidney cancer mutations looked like they actually belonged to a form of pancreatic cancer. He switched to a drug designed for tumors in a totally different organ.

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