Should you try at-home genetic testing?
Correctly interpreting the tests is crucial
So will direct-to-consumer genetic tests be another tool in learning how we can stay healthy? Maybe, say genetics experts. Personal genetics company 23andMe has relaunched its testing service after the Food and Drug Administration halted its business in 2013 until it could prove the tests were accurate. However, now with FDA approval, the tests have been retooled and became available again on Wednesday.
Tests from 23andMe cost $199 and are mailed upon request. Customers provide a saliva sample in the testing kit and mail it back to the company, which uses the sample to screen for whether you are a carrier for genetic diseases, like Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell Anemia, and provide reports on ancestry, wellness — like caffeine consumption and lactose intolerance — and other genetics-related traits like eye color and hair type. Emily Drabant Conley, vice president of business development for 23andMe says this information can help you understand how genetics work and how you are unique. The original iteration of the test provided consumers with information on their risks of developing certain diseases like breast cancer.
Conley says 23andMe is no longer offering the genetic risk factor report, which aimed to predict whether you would develop certain diseases rather than whether you are a carrier, but is working with the FDA to make it available to consumers. Currently 23andMe is the only FDA-approved direct-to-consumer genetic testing service, though other tests, like Counsyl and New Amsterdam Genomics, are available if approved by your doctor.
As genetic research has rapidly developed over the past decade, the information that can be derived from our genes has greatly increased, and people are more willing to explore their genetic makeup. Joshua Petrikin, a neonatologist (a doctor who treats newborn infants) who specializes in genomic medicine at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. says researchers know of 5,000 to 8,000 genes where mutations can indicate disease. However, he says, that number is relatively small compared with one’s entire genetic sequence.
There may be no reason to pay for such tests. Carrier tests are usually available through an obstetrician or gynecologist, and are more likely to be covered by health insurance, says Barbara Bernhardt, a professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and genetic counselor.
Another reason to avoid mail-order carrier tests: A medical professional has a better ability to interpret results, Petrikin says.
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