Consumer genetic tests on trial
I was glad to see that someone?s taking direct-to-consumer genetic testing to trial. Nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics is a burgeoning experimental science as we?ll be writing about in September, but the common refrain among many experts -- ?It?s not ready for prime-time? -- hasn?t stopped several companies from marketing store bought genetic tests which are used with a lifestyle inventory to provide customized nutritional guidance. I?
I was glad to see that someone?s taking direct-to-consumer genetic testing to trial. Nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics is a burgeoning experimental science as we?ll be writing about in September, but the common refrain among many experts -- ?It?s not ready for prime-time? -- hasn?t stopped several companies from marketing store bought genetic tests which are used with a lifestyle inventory to provide customized nutritional guidance. I?ve been linkurl:skeptical, to say the least,;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/207/ and I?ve been annoyed at positive media coverage the companies have received without input from outside scientists.
The government accountability office performed a sharp little investigation as to the veracity of these companies? claims. They bought genetic test kits from four companies and sent in a dozen fictitious profiles from the same two people (two from one male and nine from one female). The test?s first iteration, which submitted dog, cat, and blank samples were sent back because they couldn?t be processed, but the second test did not reflect well on the four companies exposing at best their proclivity toward ambiguous reports and recommendations, to at worst the disparate prediction of disease risk that verges on diagnosis and the soliciting of overpriced supplements or ?DNA-repair? pills that presumably do nothing.
Although the study design is a bit scattershot, the results appear to hit a pretty rich vein of snake oil. See the GAO report linkurl:here.;http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06977t.pdf
Recent hearings and copies of individual testimonies can be found linkurl:here.;http://aging.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=185 [Added 3:30pm -- Thanks for the correction to the link, Alex. It should be working now]
August 2, 2006
Your last link, to the Special Committee on Aging Senate hearings, is broken (it includes some breaks as part of the href). Try this:\nhttp://aging.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=185\n\nThanks for a good post!
August 3, 2006
The GAO's conclusion that the genetic tests were misleading is incorrect for two reasons. First, the GAO found that the test reports predicted risk for specific diseases. However, Sciona does not diagnose or predict disease in the company's consumer reports. In addition, the GAO believed that the variation in the reports was an indication that the reports were flawed. In fact, the variation reported in the 14 test reports has a valid explanation. The GAO supplied genetic material from two individuals but supplied 14 different lifestyle questionnaires from 14 fictitious consumers. The service that Sciona provides is based on an analysis of lifestyle questionnaires and genetic screening together. The genetic-based recommendations remain constant, while different lifestyle questionnaires for each consumer will yield different results because of their different nutrition and lifestyle practices.\n\nSciona stands behind our product and service and looks forward to working with the government to develop appropriate standards.
August 3, 2006
I appreciate the response from Sciona. \nKeith Grimaldi points to exactly the problem I have with the GAO?s methods. By creating different fictitious lifestyle questionnaires they?ve opened the door to a counterargument reasoning that the recommendations should be different based on the different lifestyles. They should have standardized their test a bit more, in my opinion. The results were blinded for the four companies the GAO tested, and it seems that the GAO picked out some bad apples (those who suggest taking overpriced supplements, for example) to paint the entire industry. I?ve seen sample reports for Sciona as well as one from the same company created for a freelance writer with whom I?ve worked. I didn?t find them particularly useful or compelling from a scientific standpoint. The statements and recommendations were ambiguous and largely amounted to common sense, but they were fairly innocuous. Nevertheless, the range in results for the different companies that the GAO reported and the potential directions this industry may take certainly indicate that regulation is warranted.