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05/11/2010

24 Hour Genetic Testing at Your Local Walgreens Pharmacy

Courtesy of Pathway Genomics and Walgreens Pharmacy, on Friday in 7500 pharmacies around the nation, you too can send your spit off for genetic analysis and find out your genetic predisposition for a wide range of conditions including breast cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, says ABC News.

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And how’s this for over-promising? Pathway says that the test can be used “to forecast what genetic disorders future children might have, and weigh the likelihood that they’ll become obese or go blind”, says ABC. Gee, I think I missed the headline where they found the “fat gene”.

Of course, over-the-counter genetic tests have been debated to death and the ethical issues are obvious, but what I’d love to see at my Walgreens pharmacy on Friday is someone going up to the pharmacy counter and speaking to the pharmacist about whether to take such a test. Or better yet, when the giant report comes back from Pathway Genomics, which includes test results for “drug responses and adverse reactions”, I’d love to see a pharmacist react to the endless questions that any average person would have to having a gene that gives you a increased rate of caffeine metabolism or might predispose you to statin induced myopathy.

Why am I picking on pharmacists? Well, I surmise that people who purchase these products at the pharmacy will go back to the pharmacy (heck, many are open 24-7) to ask questions about their results. The logic being–if they sell the product, they ought to be able to help me with these results when I get them, right?

But even when the pharmacist does a woefully inadequate job interpreting the risk factors and what they mean for any given test-taker, a physician, as we all know, is unlikely to do much better interpreting these over-the-counter test results.

But maybe this is all much ado about nothing. Maybe few will purchase these over-the-counter tests. But who will? Those who are curious and then will likely spend hours on Google trying to decipher the result themselves and then those who believe, based on family history or other factors that they are at risk of some genetic condition. But then who will help them decipher what their results mean? Who will help them from being either the worried well or deal with a meaningful result?

Therein lies the problem and it’s one that neither Walgreens nor Pathway Genomics have even begun to resolve.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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