The Innovation That’s Helping Families Save the Past for the Future
Posted April 26, 2017
5 min read
It’s rare to find preserved DNA post-mortem over a generational timeline—at least in normal conditions. “DNA damage begins at the moment of death. Different tissues have different decay rates, as many funeral professionals know,” says Ryan Lehto, CEO of CG Labs, Inc, the parent company of DNA Memorial. We sat down with Lehto to talk about the company’s innovative genetic legacy offering for families.
Sometimes, if DNA molecules are maintained in a certain, unique kind of constant environment they can survive long periods of time, but it’s uncommon, says Lehto.
The most successful area where DNA has been recovered is buried in the permafrost areas of the northern hemisphere. This area had 65,000 year old bison mitochondrial DNA that has been found (Source: Gilbert et al.2004).
But DNA Memorial is a company that has their own proprietary method of extracting DNA from a non-invasive mouth swab or a hair sample so that it can be preserved—and preserved indefinitely. After hair or a mouth swab is collected, the company is able to take the DNA and bind it to a substrate. This process (although much simplified here) allows the DNA to be stored at room temperature indefinitely.
The breakthrough technology provides families with the opportunity to save a deceased loved ones’—or their own—genetic record.
“Memories fade and so does important information such as genealogical heritage and medical history. It’s the last opportunity for people to save their DNA. Most people throughout their life don’t even think about saving their DNA,” says Lehto. “Now the death of a loved one does not have to mean the loss of family history.”
Preserving Personal DNA of Loved Ones
Lehto says that, knowing how valuable the DNA is, DNA Memorial has partnered with funeral directors to help families who are interested in preserving their genetic record.
More and more families—at least though that know of the potential for this kind of service—are considering leaving family DNA for their heirs, explains Lehto. One major motivation is that diseases can be traced back to genetics, which makes DNA very valuable for future generations.
“DNA allows heirs the opportunity to track, diagnose and prevent everything from simple skin disorders to terminal cancer,” explains Lehto. “The more familial DNA that is preserved, the more doctors have to work with in genetic medicine. A family’s genetic legacy is valuable in this era of genetics, and more people are starting to become aware of that.”
DNA: It Says Everything About Your Family
He says part of what DNA Memorial does it work with funeral directors to educate families on the opportunity. (DNA Memorial does not sell directly to families—they go through funeral professionals.)
“DNA basically contains everything about you, and not only the good stuff, but the bad stuff, too. As personalized medicine becomes more and a part of our everyday life, we anticipate this will become [even more popular].”
Lehto has many examples of how personalized medicine has been valuable for families. One woman, named Trish, was being treated for colon cancer. Her treatments weren’t responding as doctors had hoped.
“What they did is they sequenced out her DNA and they found why the cancer was being produced—because it was a protein in her body that wasn’t being made properly, so they were able to prescribe her a common blood pressure medication for this issue, which eradicated her cancer,” says Lehto. “It’s that kind of application we’re helping with, too.”
“When people get a genetic pre-disposition test, they’ll get back a number with a percentage that tells them about their likelihood of getting a certain disease, such as breast cancer, as one example,” explains Lehto. But that is a statistical average, he says, and the problem can be that it lacks context.
“To make that number really mean anything, you need to be able to compare it to something. So you need to be able to compare it to a reference sample. If you had your mother’s or your grandmother’s DNA, it will give you an accurate number of your real chances. Without that generational context, those numbers don’t mean as much by themselves.”
Entering the Era of Genetics
Part of why DNA Memorial is finding success in this new “Era of Genetics” is because of the ability to store the genetic record at room temperature. In the past, it was much more expensive, and not as accessible for most people to be able to do so.
“We’ve invented the way to store it at room temperature and send it back to the family, and they can store it anywhere and they can keep it for generations. And over time, it gets more valuable for those generations.”
Lehto says the funeral directors who’ve embraced DNA Memorial are ones that want to be able to offer a variety of innovative services to their families. Lehto says it helps families become more loyal to a funeral home, since they see the funeral director as helping them preserve their family legacy in many ways.
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Interesting in learning more about DNA Memorial?
Funeral professionals globally can learn more at DNA Memorials’ website, http://www.dnamemorial.com/, on LinkedIn, or by emailing Beth Marsh the company’s customer service representative, at help@DNAmemorial.
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