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The Peddling Of Genetic Tests

In a recent issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), journalist Ray Moynihan wrote: “Beware the fortune tellers peddling genetic tests.(Subscription required for full access.) Excerpts:

“For anyone concerned about the creeping medicalisation of life, the marketplace for genetic testing is surely one of the latest frontiers, where apparently harmless technology can help mutate healthy people into fearful patients, their personhood redefined by multiple genetic predispositions for disease and early death.

Again a tool that’s proved useful in the laboratory has escaped like a virus into the marketplace, incubated by entrepreneurs, lazy reporters, and the power of our collective dreams of technological salvation, this time in the form of personalised medicine to treat us according to our individual genetic profiles.

Evaluating genetic tests is a complex business, requiring assessment of how well the test measures what it claims to measure, how well the genetic variation predicts actual disease, how useful the results are in terms of treatment, and what the social and ethical issues might be. Clearly there’s potential for exaggerating the value of a genetic test, which is one reason Germany has imposed severe restrictions on direct-to-consumer testing. In the United States they’re talking of a new test registry on a government website, raising immediate concerns that it could lend legitimacy to unproved and potentially harmful products.
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*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

The “DNA Dilemma”

Mary Carmichael of Newsweek had a great series of articles focusing on direct-to-consumer genetic testing. An excerpt:

I’ve been following DTC genetics since 2007, when wide scanning first became available to the public. Since then, a number of writers have gotten wide-scale genetic tests and expounded on the results. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if I’m the last science reporter on earth with virgin genes. (Technical virgin: My doctor gave me a cystic fibrosis carrier test when I was pregnant.) Initially, I put off getting a full-genome scan because I wasn’t sure how useful such a test would be. I had no particular reason to take one, save curiosity. I wouldn’t expect to find anything serious and potentially life-altering like the Huntington’s disease gene in my results, because my family medical history is thankfully rather boring. The data most likely to be medically relevant to me would concern the genetics of common diseases, and at the time, many comprehensive and well-designed studies of those were still getting underway. I decided to wait a few years and see how research progressed. But here I am, three years later, still unsure.

*This blog post was originally published at ScienceRoll*

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