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What’s in your DNA?

Ashley Milne-Tyte Jan 22, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: The World Economic Forum kicks off tomorrow in Davos, Switzerland. There’ll be lots of schmoozing and high-concept panel discussions over the ensuing couple of days. As well as some announcements timed to capitalize on the publicity. A company called 23andMe will introduce a direct-to-consumer genetic testing service for Europeans. It’s already available here in the United States. Send them $999 and a swab of saliva, six weeks later you get some pretty detailed analysis of your DNA. But might that be the very definition of too much information?

From New York, Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: 23andMe won’t tell you how likely you are to develop certain diseases. The company’s website says it’ll help you read and understand your DNA.

Caroline Lieber: The majority of people don’t have any real background in genetics and how to even interpret that information.

Caroline Lieber directs the human genetics program at Sarah Lawrence College. She says the problem with direct-to-consumer genetics tests is that the results may confuse consumers.

Lieber: So that while the 23andMe site has something they call Genetics 101, the concepts are tough and it takes a while for them to sink in and have people understand what they mean.

She says people should consult health professionals to fully understand the implications of their results.

Steven Keiles is president-elect of the National Society of Genetic Counselors. He says it’s a good idea to consult a counselor before embarking on a home test.

Steven Keiles: If they were talking to a genetic counselor prior to testing, they would have a much better understanding and expectation which would alleviate the stress that can be caused post-test.

David Mongillo of the American Clinical Laboratory Association likes the idea of home testing. But he says diagnosis should be done in federally approved labs. Right now there’s little federal oversight of this business. But Mongillo says too much might be on the way.

David Mongillo: It would be an error to have duplicative and redundant regulatory oversight on these services that will really slow down and maybe even stifle the promise of this whole genetic personalized medicine.

Which, he says, will be a positive force in the delivery of health care.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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