by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 20, 2007 in DNA Products, DNA Testing
What’s so special about 23andMe, deCODEme, and Navigenics? What makes them stand out of the crowd? After all, DNA testing is nothing new. The company I work for, DNA Direct, has been offering consumers a whole slate of different tests for several years complete with genetic counseling and informative reports.
What makes the latest entrants into the field of personal genomics interesting:
- Whole genome SNP analysis vs specific, single, limited number of gene variants
- Interactive, fun websites that are meant to be always up-to-date with the latest information and enable you to make contact with others who have similar genetic profiles
- A combination of genetic genealogy with human genetics
- 23andMe and deCODEme de-emphasize their involvement in medical genetics with deCODEme claiming that the information they give you is not meant to help you make “medical decisions.”
- Strong PR push which is especially important for companies that operate only on the Internet
- Investors with deep pockets
While I understand the excitement surrounding the launch of these companies (mainly engineered by the media), I don’t get why we should be any more excited by their offerings than by what’s already available on the market.
First of all, I’m not all that interested in what kind of gene causes my sticky ear wax because as Kathy Hudson, founder and director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center, pointed out, we’ve got q-tips for that. Info on the genes encoding my boring brown eyes can’t be all that interesting either.
Secondly, what am I supposed to do with the knowledge that certain SNPs in my genome are associated with an increased risk in complex diseases such as heart disease, etc.? Common sense tells me that everyone should be eating less fat and exercising more. That’s the commons sense part of prevention. As for treatment, if I needed it, my cholesterol and blood pressure, along with other biomarkers, would have given me away already. And, isn’t this kind of gene-disease information at the heart of nutrigenomic companies like Sciona and Suracell (for more info, see my interview with Suracell Chief Information Officer Derek Hornby) except that Sciona doesn’t sell nutritional supplements like Suracell?
Thirdly, if you’re an early adopter of whole genome scan technology, you should be aware that the data you get on your genealogy won’t be very different than other companies that offer genetic genealogy services at substantially lower prices ($1,000 for whole genome scan vs a couple hundred dollars for genealogy DNA testing alone). Also, the SNP approach employed by these companies may yield different results than the STR marker and mtDNA sequencing analyses used by others. In fact, if you’re looking to fill in your family tree/ancestry by making connections with other people of the same genetic profile, you may have to wait some time for the company database to accrue enough data from a sufficient number of customers. There are also many people who are interested in genetic genealogy but don’t want to know anything about genes that might predispose them to disease. DNA can be fun and scary.
On top of all this, remember that personal genomics doesn’t necessarily mean individualized genomics. DNA from you and other customers is analyzed using the same chip and the information you get is the same as any other customer with your SNP genotype and family history. As far as I can tell, there are no follow-up analyses beyond what the company offers on these microarray chips so if, for example, you have a SNP in the BRCA gene for breast and ovarian cancer that is linked to increase risk, you’re on your own in selecting which other genetic testing company or health service for further genetic testing.
But don’t just listen to me, DNA Network members are definitely the ones to turn to for commentary on the developing field of personal genomics.
- Sandra Porter at Discovering Biology in a Digital World – Step right up, get your very own DNA profile only $999
- David Hamilton at VentureBeat Life Sciences – 23andMe: Will the personal-genomics company need Big Pharma to make money?
- Ricardo Vidal at My Biotech Life – 23andMe uses the new gold standard from DNA Genotek
- Ramunas Janavicius at Cancer Genetics – deCODE’ing Predisposition to Cancer
- Deepak Singh at business|bytes|genes|molecules – Your personal health: Social networking XY.0 revisited and some killer video
- Blaine Bettinger at The Genetic Genealogist – 23andMe Launches Their Personal Genome Service
- Lisa Lee at DNA Direct Talk – deCODEme: First “Genetic Scan” Launches
- Steve Murphy at Gene Sherpas – Staying Positive
- Bertalan Mesko at ScienceRoll – Personalized Genetics: It has begun!
- Thomas at The Seven Stones – Personal genomics for a fistful of dollars
NB: Proving that The Issue is up-to-date on the issues of the day, The Genetic Revolution was the subject of discussion earlier this week with posts from Gene Sherpa, The Genetic Genealogist, Little Blue Pill, and Eye on DNA.
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