3/04/2019 | BlogPost

I spit in a tube

Sara Scarpinati | Marketing & Communications Manager


The latest episodes of Grey’s Anatomy are exploring a new story line, with Jo Karev searching for answers on her family tree.

Dr. Jo Karev, Surgical Innovation fellow at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, buys a 23andMe(ish) DNA test, spits into the tube and impatiently waits for the results. When they come, as Dr. Maggie Pierce puts it, she finds out she has won the "genetic lottery": she has no predisposition for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s disease — but does have a first cousin named Martha. However another doctor offers her his help to find her mother using digital tools.

And that opens the Pandora’s box.

What would you do?

The tests are as simple as spitting into a tube or swabbing your cheek, but the fallout can be much more complicated.

Your story is in the tube that you have spat in. And it has the potential to alter your life and point of view on many things.

Who would not be curious about their origins? What if you find something you are not ready to know?

You could learn more about your genetics and how they could shape your health.

You might even discover that you are a citizen of the world, with genetic links to countries you’ve never even thought of visiting before.

Or it could be that your parents have lied to you.

A whole lot of pain, confusion and fear could come along with the test results. But it could also amaze you and connect the dots of your life.

The “Born” Identity

We met Albert Frantz, concert pianist, in Berlin during the Frontiers Health 2018 conference, where he talked about his search for healing and identity as a patient and as an individual.

Switching from electrical engineering to music and a scholarship to study in Vienna, a serious spinal injury and tram accident eventually proved to be a turning point for Albert Frantz.

He couldn’t play the piano anymore. He seemed to have lost everything: his ability to play, his livelihood, his home, his family.

One day he discovered the French composer and piano virtuoso Charles-Valentin Alkan, who could still play the piano with his right hand. And that discovery led to his debut album.

There was still a secret to unveil. His true identity seemed to be a corporate secret.

Some of us are products of reproductive technology […] There’s an entire spectrum that ranges from anonymous sperm egg donors all the way to synthesizing human DNA

He didn’t know what he was anymore so he turned to DNA testing.

For several years he was on a quest to find out his own identity. He wanted to find out more about where he came from.

It is a natural human need.

So he took a DNA test in a search for his Jewish roots and asked for ‘DNA triangulation’. This shows if there’s a segment of DNA you have in common with someone else and means that you have a single common ancestor. Could it help him find his father’s last name?

Yet another DNA test, and another... that first discovery led him on a very emotional journey.

Early last year he got an exact match and Albert unearthed the identity of his father (who it transpired had been a sperm donor while at university). It then turned out that his newly discovered brother was an engineer and a pianist.

All the dots of his life were finally connecting.

It’s through technology [sperm donation] that I got here and it’s through technology that I was able to find my family and the missing pieces of my identity.

For Albert this technology represents a new beginning and it should be honored and made an open source.

What are your thoughts about this? Would you take a DNA test? Do you agree with Albert and that this technology should be available for everyone?

Follow Frontiers Health on Social Media Channels to find out about the next speakers and stories that will be told at Frontiers Health 2019.

  • Digital health
  • Digital health revolution
  • Frontiers Health
  • Start-ups
  • Technology
Sara Scarpinati

Graduated in Classics, after a short but intense work experience in London, Sara arrives in Healthware in 2011 as Content Coordinator and deals with international and Italian projects, in close collaboration with the Creative team, and with a fondness for Social Networking and blogging.