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At-Home Genetic Tests: Little Benefit, Little Risk

Study Shows Short-Term Impact on People Who Use at-Home Genetic Tests Is Small

Usefulness of Tests

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill professor of Genetics James Evans, MD, says companies like Navigenics, 23andMe and Pathway Genomics, which market the at-home kits, definitely promote the idea that the tests will lead to better health.

The Navigenics web site makes this clear: “Our goal is to empower you with genetic insights to help motivate you to improve your health,” the company’s home page states.

“These kits are explicitly and implicitly appealing to the idea that knowledge is power,” Evans says. “The reality is that there are no shortcuts to changing behavior. You can’t wave a genetic magic wand and get people to eat right and exercise.”

In its investigation of the at-home genetics kits, the GAO concluded that marketing claims were misleading and that the tests were of little practical use to consumers.

Evans says this is largely due to the fact that there is as yet no accurate way to assess disease risk based on their findings.

“Even once we are able to do this, I suspect that the magnitude of risk conferred will be so small as to be trivial,” he says. “Most diseases have many components and genetics is only one of them.”

Navigenics Responds to Study

The study was paid for, in part, by grants from the National Institutes of Health, but Navigenics provided the test kits to the Scripps researchers.

A news release issued by the company Tuesday focused on the finding that study participants did not experience heightened anxiety in the months after having the screening test.

The company provided access to genetic counselors to help participants interpret the test results, as it does for all its customers, but only 10% of the people enrolled in the study took advantage of this.

This low utilization rate led to policy changes within the company, according to Navigenics Vice President of Genomic Services Elissa Levin, MS.

“We now proactively reach out to every individual who completes Navigenics’ risk assessment, and, as a result, the majority now undergo genetic counseling, which is offered to all customers at no additional cost,” she notes in the release.

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