Test lets genome out of the bottle

by jeeg 29. March 2011 22:00

PEOPLE are being encouraged to ''discover your own genome'', with the introduction by a Sydney company of an international online DNA testing service for genetic risks to a wide range of common diseases.

The tests scan a person's genome and can identify more than 700,000 genetic variants linked to more than 150 conditions, including melanoma, bipolar disorder, lung cancer and obesity.

Lumigenix, which has a US subsidiary, wants to take on some of the world's biggest players in this growing and controversial business of direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

Its chief executive, Romain Bonjean, said knowledge about genetic information will be a keystone of personalised healthcare, and can empower people to make healthier lifestyle choices.

''Our objective is to harness genomics for the well-being of people,'' he said.

Australian genetics experts, however, are concerned that direct-to-consumer DNA tests for disease risks, in which people buy a kit, post off a saliva sample and obtain their results online, could cause unnecessary anxiety and put a drain on Australia's public purse.

Ron Trent, chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council's Human Genetic Advisory Committee, said genetic testing required appropriate counselling.

''A genetic test involves sitting down with a health professional who can tell you what the results mean for you and your family.''

He said it was appropriate that Australia introduced a ban last July on direct-to-consumer genetic testing, where results are not returned through a medical practitioner. ''Just because you can have it done overseas doesn't mean it is correct,'' Professor Trent said.

Kristine Barlow-Stewart, the director of the Centre for Genetics Education at the Royal North Shore Hospital, said she was concerned online access to testing would increase demand on already overstretched genetic counselling services here, because people will be worried by their results.

It could be ''a tsunami waiting to happen'', Associate Professor Barlow-Stewart said.

Disease risk depends on much more than genetics, she said. ''And the cheapest genetic test of all is finding out your family history.''

Lumigenix, which has a US licence to carry out risk testing, differs from some of its competitors in not reporting on risk for Alzheimer's disease, genetic markers that carry a high risk for breast cancer, and carrier status for heritable diseases.

Mr Bonjean said Australia needed to have a debate about people's right to information about their DNA, because legislation here lags behind the technology.

The comprehensive test costs $US479 plus postage and handling. A cheaper introductory kit is also sold online.

Deborah Smith, Sydney Morning Herald



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