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New Genetic Testing Kit: Life Saver or Potential Hazard?



It could turn science on its ear. For about the price of going to the movies and dinner, you may be able to investigate your genetic composition with a private genetic DNA testing kit that could be widely available soon.

Already 180,000 individuals have taken advantage of the test. They paid for DNA analysis through the world’s largest private genomics company, 23andMe. The company managed to assess over 200 genetic health risks and traits using the procedures.

Two of the women, Karen Durrett and Carole Kushnir, were fortunate enough to uncover life-saving information. Durrett didn’t just locate the father she’d never met but came to learn about a fatal health condition. Kushnir’s test revealed her genetic make-up included a double risk of cancer. Apparently, she has a mutated gene that enhances the risk of both ovarian and breast cancer. The testing of other members in her family led to the discovery that they also had a similar mutation.

The California based 23andMe is expecting the currently $99 testing kit to drop in price after receiving an infusion of new joint venture capital. Co-founded by Anne Wojcicki (wife of Google giant Sergey Brin), the company is expecting to reach over a million users by the close of the year. That includes customers here and abroad. The product is actually sold by mail order in the United Kingdom.

Critics in the science community include doctors, bioethicists, and geneticists. They’re concerned with laymen being out of their element with information that’s difficult to interpret. It could lead to unnecessary health fears and false reassurances. These tests could prompt unwarranted procedures for ill health and diseases that would never surface or enhance stress over unconfirmed conditions.

The genetic DNA testing kit consists of the customer swabbing their cheeks or spitting into a test tube. The sample is then sent to a laboratory-like 23andMe. The researchers at the facility examine the sample for common variants that indicate the risk of diseases that include diabetes, cancers, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and Parkinson’s.

Durrett was looking for the cause of some health problems by utilizing the legal DNA test kit. She both learned she had breast cancer and that the man she thought was her father was in fact not. She tracked her real father down and met a half-sister she knew nothing about who was also fighting breast cancer.

The American Academy of Paediatrics has expressed objection to using these kits for testing children while parents have said they’d like to use them to know of any risk. Members of the medical community have stated this line of thinking by parents is the risk. Only medical information that requires action should be shared. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has compared the kit’s personalized genetic profiling at this early stage to being ‘not ready for prime time,’ referring to the classic Saturday Night Live cast.

As the professional medical community tries to establish if this technology should be available to the public, the production proceeds ahead to make sure that’s exactly what happens.