Do-It-Yourself Genetic Testing?

Episode: 
30

Some of our friends are ideal “do-it-yourselfers.” They can rewire a house, install drywall, create a garden retreat, or design amazing scrapbooks. My husband and I learned long ago that we don’t qualify for do-it-yourself projects…early in our marriage it took us four years to remodel a bathroom. Maybe we needed a “do-it-yourself handyman kit! There is another do-it-yourself kit on the market that you may not be aware of – a kit to test your DNA.

These personal genetic testing kits have popped up on the Internet through companies such as Navigenetics and 23andMe. These companies are stepping up their efforts to attract your attention. 23andMe conducts home “spit parties” to collect DNA samples.[1] Pathway Genomics reached a deal to sell personal genetic testing kits in Walgreens stores. “Let’s see: Tylenol? Check. Toothpaste? Check. Personal DNA kit? Check.”

These genetic tests claim to unlock hidden information in your DNA with the promise that such information will help you live a healthier and longer life. Want to know your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes or cancer? Or how about which medicines will be the most effective for you? Future parents want to know what diseases they risk passing on to their children. Others are curious about their family tree. Just submit your DNA for analysis and find out!

The results don’t match the hype. An investigative report by the Government Accountability Office found that these tests are both misleading and inaccurate.[2] A GAO undercover investigation discovered that companies made bogus claims about what their genetic test could actually predict. Results of the genetic tests even contradicted the consumers’ own medical histories by telling patients they were at a “low” risk for a disease when in fact they were at a “high” risk, or already had the disease in question!

Fortunately for consumers, the FDA has stepped in to regulate these direct-to-consumer genetic tests. It’s not just a party game; some individuals could be placed at serious risk by making medical decisions based on faulty results, including having unnecessary preventative surgery or stopping needed medication.[3]

Don’t get me wrong: there are many good reasons to consider genetic testing. Genetic testing has given future parents knowledge regarding their risk of passing on a genetic condition to their children and has given individuals the opportunity make lifestyle changes to prevent the onset of genetically-linked disease. This testing, however should always be performed by a professional, and should include counseling provided by a geneticist who can clearly and accurately explain the results of the test and provide medical guidance.

As Christians, we should be on our guard of efforts to mislead or take advantage of the gullible. Don’t waste your money on a personal genetic testing kit. This is one “do-it-yourself” project that is best left to a professional.



[1]Allen Salkin, “When in Doubt, Spit It Out.”New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/14/fashion/14spit.html?_r=1 (accessed August 18, 2010).

[2] Matthew Perrone, “GAO Investigators Say DNA Tests Give Bogus Results,” Associated Presshttp://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=11226811 (accessed August 17, 2010).

[3] U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing and the Consequences to the Public.” FDA, http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Testimony/ucm219925.htm (accessed August 17, 2010).

 

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