The Gullible Gene?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky March 26, 2008
Biopolitical Times

Thirty-two companies are now marketing direct-to-consumer genetic tests, according to a chart [PDF] published by the Genetics and Public Policy Institute.

Eight of the 32, including the trio of 23andMe, Navigenics and DeCodeMe that has of late been much in the news, offer "personal genome" services. In other words, they look across the genome for variants that are supposed to correlate with predispositions to a range of conditions, from Alzheimer's to arthritis to - get this - athletic performance.

Other companies focus on propensity towards specific traits - many serious diseases, but also "hair loss," "addiction," and "skin profile." Two companies analyze the blood of pregnant women, and claim that they can thereby determine fetal sex.

Public-interest advocates, government advisory committees, and medical experts have been warning for years that oversight of genetic tests is inadequate. Back in 2006, the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report [PDF] on nutrigenetic testing titled Tests Purchased from Four Web Sites Mislead Consumers.

But there's no government agency regulating the genetic testing industry - not the FDA, which you'd think would claim it; not the FTC, which is supposed to prevent false and misleading advertising.

Are the tests accurate? Clinically valid? What about privacy and genetic discrimination? What will you do with the information anyway? And for that matter, what will the company do with it?

Buyer beware. And the rest of us too.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: