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Gene tests for weight loss: Australian pharmacies under fire

7 November 2011
Appeared in BioNews 632

The Australian Pharmacy Guild has drawn criticism after signing a commercial deal that offers weight-loss programmes based on genetic testing. Medical experts in the field claim that the test is a 'gimmick', as research linking genes to weight gain or loss is still in its infancy, and is not suitable evidence to guide dietary regimes.

The deal, signed with Melbourne-based genetics company MyGene, allows an in-pharmacy dietician to take a swab from the client and send it to the company for analysis. The sample is screened for genes that influence how our body metabolises fats and sugars in the diet. Each test costs 1,600 Australian dollars (around £1,000). Following the tests, the client has nine sessions of personalised advice from the dietician. These are meant to help with 'a personally-optimised eating plan and weight loss program', according to a joint statement issued by the Guild and MyGene.

The managing director of MyGene, Nick Argyrou, claims that the tests have been very popular in the 15 pharmacies currently offering them. However, several experts in the field have called the programme into question.

Talking to ABC News, Dr Katie Allen, a gastroenterologist based at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, said: 'We know that we're genetically at risk in some ways because we only have to look at our family history - heaviness tends to run in families - but we also all know that the most important factor about losing weight is diet and other lifestyle factors like exercise'.

MyGene backs up its claim with 'a body of supporting evidence'. In the Sydney Morning Herald, Professor Morris, a specialist in Molecular Medical Sciences at Sydney University, says supporting evidence is 'slightly helpful but I would not use the word strong'.

Also in the Herald, John Button, a pharmacist in a store offering the service, says that the weight-loss program has worked for his customers: 'I don't think it is charlatanism. It is not a poke in the dark'.

This is the second time in recent months that the Guild has come into the firing line. It has recently been criticised in the press for its association with drug companies and for an abandoned deal with a complementary medicine company.

Pharmacies cop flak over genetic testing for weight loss
Sydney Morning Herald |  27 October 2011
Pharmacy Guild under fire over weight loss program
ABC News |  27 October 2011
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