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genetic_gesting_for_everyone - Vol 453|29 May 2008 SPECIAL...

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T erry Drotos was adopted at birth. She knows nothing of her biological family’s medical history and so cannot use it to gauge her or her daughter’s future health. When she was offered the chance to have her genetic information analysed, she jumped at it. Drotos was one of the first to try the genetic testing service offered by Navigenics, based in Redwood, California. After the company analysed her DNA for gene variations linked to 19 condi- tions, she was relieved to hear that her susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease is no higher than average. But she was surprised to learn that her risks of obesity and type 2 dia- betes are 2–3% higher than average for her age group. Drotos is slim and exercises regularly, so there was little more she could do to lower those risks. “It really does show that if I wasn’t already taking care of myself, I probably would be overweight or diabetic,” she says, although geneticists would probably disagree with her assessment. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is a rap- idly growing market — the past year has seen the launch of companies, such as Navigenics and 23andMe in California and DeCODEme in Iceland, that offer DNA screening for a range of common genetic variants linked to disease. The testing outfits have created a buzz in the busi- ness and research communities as well as in the wider public: Google has invested in two of them and Navigenics briefly opened a store in New York’s hip SoHo district. The idea is that test-takers will be alerted to risks and so take pre- ventive action where possible. But psychosocial scientists who study how people respond to risk infor- mation say there is scant evidence that people are affected deeply by genetic test results, or that such tests spur much change in behaviour. “In public these genetic-testing companies have made a big splash, and it’s an intriguing idea that you can peel back your genome and reveal something about your future,” says Rob- ert Green, who studies Alzheimer’s disease at Boston University in Massachusetts. “But if that idea disappoints,” he adds, “some of the lustre will fade.” The service provided by these companies A common perception is that hearing the results of a genetic test confirming an increased risk of, for example, breast cancer, causes shock, distress and lasting psychological scars. So genetic information is treated as medical dynamite. This is knowledge that
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