Scientific advances have now made it possible to preserve a loved one’s DNA after they pass away through a new service offered by funeral directors, called DNA Memorial. Far from being just a token of remembrance, this technological advance could unlock the key to a healthy, longer life for future generations. Could this be the ultimate memorial tribute?
We spoke to Simon Rothwell, managing director of Flexmort about DNA Memorial to find out how this pioneering technology could revolutionise healthcare and the way we think about inheritance.
The importance of DNA
DNA is in every cell in our bodies. It contains all our genetic information, including how we will grow and develop. DNA was first identified by Swiss biologist Johannes Friedrich Miescher in 1869. Since then science has made leaps forward at an astonishing rate. We now routinely use DNA evidence in criminal court cases, to answer questions about history and its people, and even test unborn babies for genetic disorders – but we are only just beginning to discover the secrets that DNA holds.
Doctors and scientists are increasingly using genetic information to identify different types of cancer and other genetic conditions, figure out how certain drugs work best, and prevent hereditary diseases. There’s no telling exactly where genetic research will take us in the future, but an increasing number of life-threatening diseases are being treated by studying the genetic code of families.
This is where DNA preservation comes in. By preserving the DNA of a loved one, you can ensure that their genetic information is not lost. This could prove invaluable to future generations, who may choose to have the sample tested at any point. For example, if they need to know their genetic background to help treat a serious illness, or want to know if they may be more prone to certain diseases. The DNA of previous generations could also be used in life-saving genetic research in the future.
Simon explained how he found out about the life-saving potential of genetic preservation: “I became aware of cutting edge research at Lakehead University in Canada and the formation of a spin out company called CG Labs. They had 25 years of DNA research and had found this way of preserving DNA. They started looking at how it could help people through preserving DNA at funeral homes and I wanted to be involved.
“I was aware of the growing importance of DNA in healthcare and I do some work through the University of Warwick, so I approached the professor of oncology and asked him whether it would be of benefit if the public preserved the DNA of their deceased relatives. And he said, ‘This could change healthcare, as the analysis of familial DNA is key to understanding genetic conditions in families.’
“If we all had access to our family DNA, that would be huge. We’ll look back in five or 10 years’ time at healthcare now like we look back on bloodletting. Because we’re starting to move towards personalised healthcare – in the future, the treatment we receive will all be targeted towards our genes and this won’t just be for the serious diseases like cancer and heart disease, but also for minor disorders like simple skin irritations.”
How DNA Memorial works
Managing director Simon Rothwell (right) and Steve Huggins, commercial director (left), with the Queen’s Award for Innovation
Simon’s company, Flexmort, supplies many market-leading innovations to funeral directors and has recently won the Queen’s Award for Innovation. It was a natural decision, then, to bring the revolutionary technology provided by DNA Memorial to the UK.
After a loved one has passed away, you can plan to have their DNA preserved by discussing it with your funeral director as soon as possible. The funeral director will liaise with Flexmort and take a sample of DNA from your loved one, usually by a cheek swab or small hair sample.
This sample is then sent to the DNA Memorial laboratory in Ontario, Canada. With 25 years of expertise studying the decay and preservation of DNA, their team will use a specially-developed procedure to extract and store the DNA in a sterile container. The sample will be returned to you in a presentation box with a certificate of authenticity. Additionally, your loved one’s privacy is protected, as DNA samples will not be stored, analysed or shared, except for the sealed vial you are given.
Housed within this protective container, the genetic information will survive indefinitely without refrigeration. It will be useful for many generations to come, and the very essence of who your loved one was will be kept safe forever. Should their descendants need to send the DNA for testing, the sample will be as pure as the day it was collected and provide a wealth of information to doctors of the future.
“It’s up to the family when and how they want to use it,” Simon explains. “If someone in the family has a serious illness, being able to give doctors your ancestor’s DNA can be invaluable. They’ll be able to do genetic testing and better understand that patient’s situation. Potentially, it could save lives.”
A treasured keepsake
DNA Memorial also offers memorial gifts along with DNA storage. As well as having the genetic information safely stored in the sealed container, there is a range of remembrance crystals and jewellery available.
These glass keepsakes are designed by a team of professional glass artists and also have some of your loved one’s DNA incorporated into them. In this way DNA preservation can be both a useful inheritance for your loved one’s descendants and a gift of remembrance.
As the complex scientific methods involved become more affordable, and the public becomes more aware of the process, the demand for DNA preservation is expected to grow and many people now want to preserve their DNA while they are alive for the benefit of their surviving relatives. Anyone wishing to preserve their own DNA for the benefit of future generations can do so via the service for the living called Save My Genes.
As Simon says, “Once families are aware of it, they want it. I’ve got a little boy of my own, and when I pass away, I know that he’ll have all my genetic information, should he ever need it. It really could change the way we view healthcare.”
Ask your funeral director to get in touch with Flexmort regarding DNA Memorial, or outline in your own funeral wishes that you want your genetic information preserved for future generations. Alternatively, if you want to do it sooner rather than later, visit Save My Genes to preserve your DNA now.