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.