Thursday, March 6, 2008

When I first saw this article, I was kind of furious. It paints genetic testing as such a negative thing... as in companies are just doing it to make money and it's very hoaxy and not accurate. I guess what upset me is that the article doesn't highlight anything GOOD about genetic testing.

But then what REALLY irked me were the comments people were making to the article. (USAToday lets you view reader comments... I find it interesting to read what the common person has to say about the news...) People wrote things like "Only rich people would do this but they should just donate the money they would spend to charity" or "We're all going to die eventually, why would I want to know what diseases I have?"

How could people be so insensitive? Some of these tests are beneficial because they can jump-start lifestyle changes and healthy behavior and other preventive measures and... Well, I could go on but I don't think it's worth it to spend my energy getting worked up. It's just a silly article presented in a negative light.

And here it is...

Companies cash in on checking your DNA for disease

By Rita Rubin, USA TODAY

Several new companies are betting consumers will be curious enough to shell out $1,000 or more to learn what diseases might lurk in their genes.

Using a half-teaspoon of saliva, collected at home and mailed to a lab, companies with catchy names such as de-CODEme and 23andME (for humans' 23 chromosomes) are selling the chance to peer into one's genome, the hereditary information encoded in DNA.

The Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., has identified eight companies marketing a "personal genome service." They test for common gene variations linked to a higher risk of leading killers such as heart disease. Other firms market tests to detect genetic susceptibility to specific conditions; one for late-onset Alzheimer's is due this spring.

The tests raise a host of ethical and practical questions: Why should people be tested to see whether they're at risk for a disease they can't do anything about? What will they do with their results? What safeguards are in place to protect their privacy?

In The New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 10, Harvard epidemiologist David Hunter, Muin Khoury of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Journal editor Jeffrey Drazen called efforts to popularize genetic testing "premature." The diseases listed by test sellers involve multiple gene variations — many of which aren't yet known — that interact with each other and the environment, they say.

Linda Avey, who is co-founder of 23andMe in Mountain View, Calif., disagrees. "The debate is sort of over," she says. "There's so much interest and pent-up demand for this." Her firm charges $999 for a genetic profile. She won't say how many customers have paid for the test.

Among the more targeted tests, HairDX in Irvine, Calif., says for $149 it can tell men whether they're likely to start balding at 40 so they can "make the right decisions to preserve" their hair. Then there is Alzheimer's Mirror, which tests for the one known genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer's.

"My big concern is that these tests are massively under-regulated," says Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center. "There's nobody looking seriously at whether the claims these companies are making about the tests are accurate."