Susceptibility is a condition of the body that increases the likelihood that the individual will develop a particular disease. Susceptibility is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
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Susceptibility is really related to the notion of risk. And, that is, that by virtue of your genetic makeup, an individual is more vulnerable to an environmental exposure, for instance. So an individual with a particular genetic makeup might be more or less affected by an environmental trigger. I think a really good example of this is the idea that, what we hear from a lot of individuals is that they can smoke because their Uncle Harry smoked and lived to be 100. And what we might argue was that Uncle Harry wasn't particularly susceptible to cigarette smoking and maybe the chemicals in the cigarette smoke. Whereas this individual, based on their genetic makeup, might not have the same outcome as Uncle Harry because they are susceptible to those chemicals in the cigarette smoke.
Colleen McBride, Ph.D.
Chief and Senior Investigator, Social and Behavioral Research Branch; Head, Public Health Genomics Section
Dr. McBride's research focuses on developing innovative public health interventions to promote risk-reducing behaviors. Building on her behavioral epidemiology and genetics experience, she is investigating how genetic information can be used to motivate people to behave in healthier ways. Genetic testing is likely to become a leading medical tool for educating patients about their health risks and inspiring them to take preventive steps, though there are obstacles to overcome before that can occur. Having the testing technology does not necessarily translate into better health behaviors. Accurate family history information combined with genetic test results may help to personalize risk.