Not only can pharmacogenomics provide information about the best drug therapy for patients, but it can also be used to predict whether a person is predisposed to contracting a heritable disease. Mutant alleles of many genes have been shown to predispose people to diseases such as breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and Huntington's disease. If doctors can identify such mutant alleles in patients long before any sign of disease becomes apparent, they may be able to treat the disease better when it first appears or even prevent it before it strikes.

Of course, this powerful technology carries with it many ethical questions: If you carried a gene that gave you a moderate probability of eventually contracting a fatal disease, should you be told? What if there were no treatments for the disease? Who should have access to a patient's genetic information? If a health insurance company finds out that a person has a set of genes that predispose her to a disease that is costly to treat, should it be allowed to deny her insurance coverage?

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