Page URL:

Over-the-counter gene tests 'waste of money'

30 January 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 343

Scientists attending a meeting on genomics and public health in London last week criticised some genetic tests being sold directly to the public. According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, tests that claim to assess a person's risk of developing common illnesses - sold via the Internet or through chemists - have been branded 'a waste of money'.

The identification of gene mutations linked to a higher risk of conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease has seen an increase in commercial home-testing kits. However, in most patients, these illnesses are the result of a complex interaction between several genetic and non-genetic factors. For most common conditions, many of the genes involved have yet to be identified, making it difficult to accurately predict an individual's risk.

US scientists based at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported their analysis of two genetic test kits that claim to measure cancer risk. Team leader Muin Khoury said that although each test looks at more than a dozen genes, only two genes appear in both. 'The problem is companies are taking early scientific discoveries and bundling them up into tests too quickly', he said.

Ron Zimmern, director of the UK's Public Health Genetics Unit at Cambridge University, said that even if there is theoretical evidence that the genes are linked to a disease, it was not enough to go on. 'There's not one shred of evidence that these tests benefit human health', he added. 'What line should society take', he asked. 'Should it say that if it doesn't harm you, you can allow the snakeoil salesman? Or does society have an obligation to make sure the consumer is only buying tests that work?' He called upon the industry and government to set up studies to find out whether such tests make any difference to people's health.

Last year, the US Genetics and Public Policy Center called for stronger federal oversight of genetic testing in the country. The centre, based at Johns Hopkins University, wrote to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue a proposed rule to create a genetic testing speciality under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) of 1988. They claim that 'the absence of a specialty area for genetic testing with specifically tailored requirements for the now burgeoning genetic testing industry hampers CLIA's ability to oversee the quality of genetic testing and to adequately ensure its safety'.

Gene tests from shops and internet 'waste of money'
The Guardian |  30 January 2006
17 August 2009 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A 'do-it-yourself' genetic testing kit will be available over-the-counter from chemists in the UK which allows users to send their own DNA samples by post for paternity testing. The kits cost £29.99 each and are produced by Anglia DNA, a company based in Norwich. Customers are required...
3 May 2009 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
The German parliament has approved legislation severely restricting the use of genetic testing. Under the new laws, which have been debated for more than seven years, genetic tests may only be carried out under specific circumstances, and only then after professional medical consultation and with the consent...
21 August 2006 - by Dr Kathy L Hudson 
While some have warned of the emergence of 'genetic exceptionalism' - the fear that genetic medicine will be treated differently than, and regulated separately from, conventional medicine - the sad reality is that genetics has been ignored by US health oversight agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS...
14 August 2006 - by Dr Carol Isaacson Barash 
Consumers' ability to obtain laboratory test services directly and without a medical order is increasing. Is this a good thing? Direct to consumer, otherwise known as direct access, clinical testing has been permitted for many years in some, but not in all states within the US. This disparity suggests that...
31 July 2006 - by Letitia Hughes 
Consumers should be wary of home DNA testing kits that claim to test whether the customer carries genes for certain diseases, according to an investigation by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). The Senate Special Committee on aging, requested the year long investigation as part of the...
2 December 2005 - by BioNews 
The US Genetics and Public Policy Center has called for stronger federal oversight of genetic testing in the country. The move stems from concerns over the quality of some of the increasing number of genetic tests available to consumers. The centre, based at Johns Hopkins University, has written to the...
10 September 2004 - by BioNews 
The pressure group GeneWatch UK has called for stricter controls on the marketing of genetic tests, and wants the Commons Select Committee on health to consider the issue. According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, GeneWatch is concerned about recent lobbying by pharmaceutical company Roche, which wants the US...
12 May 2003 - by Nikki Ratcliff 
The supply and promotion of over-the-counter genetic tests has been the topic of heated debate over the past year. Consumers' Association (CA) believes that this is an area that currently lacks the proper safeguards to protect consumer interest. The regulation debate is very much polarised at the moment. At one...
11 April 2003 - by Philip Webb 
When people think of genetic testing in the medical context, they will most likely associate this with a visit to their GP or a referral by their GP to an NHS hospital. They would expect tests on their DNA to establish whether they are suffering from an inherited disorder or...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.