Although the project states that most participants won’t receive any useful information, patients will be told if something is found in their genome that is relevant to the treatment, explanation or diagnosis of their condition. They can also choose to learn if they have a genetic risk factor for another disease, such as the BRCA1 gene mutation that can cause breast cancer. Genomics England will only look for risk factors that are linked to a disease that can be treated or prevented. Untreatable conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, are not looked for.
In fairness to 23andME, it leaves it up to the customer to unlock the more serious results – or not. When I unlock mine, I discover that, while I’m not genetically predisposed to such things as the BRAC1 or BRAC2 variant, Parkinson’s or MS, I have one of the variants for late-onset (mid-80s) Alzheimer’s. However, I don’t have any other markers for Alzheimer’s or family history or conditions associated with it or anything else listed in the rather lengthy disclaimer, which also stresses that it’s not a diagnostic result and to seek further advice from your GP if you are concerned.
Most direct-to-consumer DNA test companies warn that the tests may reveal things you wish you didn’t know about your family. For example, you could find out that one of the people who raised you isn’t your biological parent or that there’s an entire branch of your family you didn’t know about. There isn’t a way to prepare for a shock like that, but you can opt out of a company’s family-matching services if you’d rather not know.
In short – yes! It is amazing how far technology has brought us forward in the past few decades. Years ago, we could have only dreamed of getting our hands on this sort of information. Human beings are generally curious creatures so it comes as no surprise that we want to discover everything about ourselves which includes our past and where we come from.
DNA test companies that use genotyping technology, including 23andMe and Ancestry, allow you to download your raw DNA file. A raw DNA file is usually a text file that contains all the information about your genetic code gleaned from the company’s examination of your DNA. This is comprised of several hundred thousand markers known as SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). Most raw files are organized into five columns: the SNP coded into an rsID number, the chromosome the SNP is located on, the location of the SNP on the chromosome and the two alleles for each SNP.
Pet DNA tests: Companies like Embark, Wisdom Panel and many others offer genetic health risk screenings, trait analyses and breed percentage information for dogs. These canine ancestry tests allow you to confidently state that your mutt is part Irish wolf hound and give you key information about your pet’s heritage for insights into potential health issues. For example, if you find out one of your rescue dog’s parents was likely a purebred boxer, you could speak with your vet about breed-specific needs. Basepaws DNA CatKit promises information about your cat’s breed and traits with just a hair sample, though it offers swab kits for hairless cats. The kit also tells you how closely related your kitty is to wild cats like lions, tigers and (bears, oh my!) ocelots.]
In McCartney’s view, enough testing is already done in this country (sometimes too much) and there are issues of regulation and “informed consent”. “People are given very dramatic reasons to have these tests – it could help save your life, it could help improve the quality of your life – but where is the actual controlled evidence that these tests have ever done that? There’s no evidence that says doing these tests makes people become healthier.”
When my results appear, they show nothing bad. If anything, it’s anticlimactic: cholesterol, vitamins, liver proteins and the like are all in the normal range, with only ferritin (iron stores) slightly high, with a recommendation to go easy on any iron supplements. My problem with the baseline test is that, unlike Thriva’s other products, clients are supposed to have one every three months to keep track, but would I really want (or indeed need) to do such a test so regularly?
It’s easy to do these tests; it’s usually just a case of collecting your own samples at home, filling in short, basic questionnaires, posting the packages, and then logging on to interactive websites for confidential results (all the kits I tested used outside laboratories). With an array of price ranges and options, from one-off DNA-blitzes to targeting specific health areas, to fitness/wellness tracking, it’s no surprise that these kits are proving to be very big business and the field is primed to get even bigger, with a global market estimated to be worth around £7.7bn by 2022.