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08/06/2010

Jumping on the DTC Genetic Testing Bandwagon

It is as though the entire world in one week woke up and realized that direct-to-consumer genetic testing is a big deal and perhaps someone should be paying attention to it.

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Just this week alone the GAO released a report saying that most results from at-home genetic tests are mostly bunk and are pretty much impossible to interpret. This was followed on by the Human Genetics Commission in the UK issuing guidelines for how these tests should be provided and to whom.

Then there was the 5-part Newsweek column written by Mary Carmichael called “DNA Dilemma” chronicling her personal decision whether or not to swab her cheek and send her own genetic material off to a DTC genetic testing company.

So what gives with all of this sudden attention to these tests? It could be coincidence, of course. Another explanation is that these tests have been around just long enough to catch the eye of both federal regulators and government agencies and the popular media at the same time.

Combine that with our own self-absorbed tendencies and desire for self-knowledge and you have the perfect combination for a wave of societal discourse about DTC genetic tests that may continue for some time to come. If society is primed to use these technologies, to read about others using them, and regulators who are just beginning to realize that there may be societal issues to deal with, then we are about to embark upon an interesting time indeed in the era of consumer genetics. And I argue that in fact we are.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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