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Doctors may be offered discount genetic tests

21 September 2009
Appeared in BioNews 526

Doctors might soon be offered reduced price DNA analysis from genetic profiling companies such as 23andme, in the hope that this will better equip them to answer any questions their patients have about the tests and the results that cause concern.

At present, doctors receive limited specialist training in interpreting genetic tests that assess people's inherited risk of developing certain diseases, which can now be bought directly by consumers without medical oversight or counselling.

Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andme, told The Times newspaper that she wants to encourage doctors to take her company's test themselves, so they are better placed to help patients who take it and then approach them for advice.

Ms Wojcicki, a Stanford biology graduate and Linda Avey, a prominent personality in the biotechnology industry developed the company ‘23andme' in 2006. Their services cost $399 and are available direct to the consumer without physician input. The test works by the customer sending some of their saliva to the company. The DNA within the cheek cells in their sample is then analysed for a series of genetic markers, which have been associated with an altered risk of 116 specific diseases. After 3-4 weeks the customer can log onto the company website and view their results, which are displayed as a sliding scale that shows the chances of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Genetics is fast becoming a key part of medicine, with research revealing how genes can underpin susceptibility to particular diseases and likely response to particular drug treatments. However, experts have voiced concern and urged patients to have caution in taking these 'home-tests‘ as genes are not the whole story. Lifestyle choices and environment can be key factors too, and must be considered alongside any genetic results.

In August, the UK's Department of Health announced that it is investing £4.5million into a scheme that aims to improve genetics training for NHS scientists.
Genetic testing company 23andme may offer GPs a chance to try service
The Times |  15 September 2009
3 August 2009 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
People who have had their genome scanned to find the relative risks of them developing common genetic disorders may find themselves more or less at risk now than when they had the test done, even if thier lifestyle hasn't changed. This is due to more discoveries being made in the genetics field, and since it is often not understood by the individual, has resulted in calls for tighter regulations for the testing....
3 August 2009 - by Adam Fletcher 
The UK's Department of Health is to invest £4.5 million into a new scheme aimed at improving NHS scientists' training in genetics. By giving scientists a ‘broader' schooling, they will be better placed to advise doctors on which DNA tests might be suitable, and what to make of the results. Part of the process may include sitting in on doctor-patient consultations....
9 July 2009 - by MacKenna Roberts 
When giving evidence to the Lords' inquiry into genomic medicine, Health Minister Dawn Primarolo estimated that the vast potential benefits of genomic medicine will not largely be seen by patients for at least a decade. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee respectfully but conclusively disagrees in its report on Genomic Medicine, published 7 July 2009. Lord Patel who chaired the inquiry surmised; 'Genomic medicine will clearly have a huge impact on health provision and the NHS
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