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The facts behind DIY genetic testing kits

Self-testing for illnesses has been a growing trend, with an array of DIY kits for sale online and in pharmacies over the past 10 years. These tests promise to check everything from your cholesterol to whether you have an STD.

Back in 2013, the Google-backed company 23andme were ordered by FDA to immediately discontinue selling its saliva collection test that offered personal genetic screening to the general public. It was suggested that the company were failing to provide information to back its marketing claims. FDA has since made a U-turn in their division, and finally given the go ahead for mail order tests.

The start-up company, has been operating since 2006 and was co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, the ex-wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

For a seeming small fee of $99, users would receive a kit that allowed them to take a sample of saliva. This was then sent back to the company, and then results of their genetic readout would follow.

The company’s website claims to allow individuals to find out how their genetics relate to things like abnormal blood clotting, cystic fibrosis or response to certain medications.

The tests also boasts how one can find out if your body can metabolise caffeine quickly and if you’re likely to be lactose intolerant.

The website continues, ’we believe the more you know about your DNA, the more you know about yourself.’

After concerns in the US, the controversial DNA testing kit was launched in the UK in 2014. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)  have been noted to say that the genetic testing kit should be used with caution, but has not banned the test. However many critics say that this in not enough to base health decisions upon.

MHRA stand by this decision, having said it regulated such tests in the UK to make sure they met minimum standards. A spokesperson for the company added “People who use these products should ensure that they are CE marked and remember that no test is 100% reliable so think carefully before using personal genome services.”

The worry with this is that some customers could make life-changing decisions based solely on their results without consideration of seeking profession medical results as well.

This obviously requires asking the question of what 23andme’s business plan includes. Is the kit just a sale, to help individuals understand their genetic information and what it implies? Or do they aim to make money from selling the information that they acquire from consumers completing these tests?

Although the information provided to consumers is indeed empowering and beneficial to the consumer; there are some underlying ethical issues around this.

With doubts about scientific reliability, an average kit costing hundreds of pounds and the underlying fear of being told you’re at risk a terrible disease when in actual fact you are safe, this might not be worth your time or money.

Perhaps, for the immediate future it’s likely most people will find the cost of DIY DNA testing too hefty a price to pay, but the accuracy of these can only increase. In a time where there is intense interest in tailored medicines and extreme advances in medical technology, only time will tell whether or not there is a place in modern society for DIY genetic
testing kits.

Jade Groves and Jordan Ellis

Science Sub-Editor and Tech/Features/Science Editor

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