Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Totally Nailed: Home DNA Tests Ruled a Scam

The senate hearing I posted about recently turned out to be quite interesting: The Government Accountability Office released the results of a year long investigation into at-home DNA test kits, which have minimal federal oversight or quality control, but offer actual medical advice to consumers. Their investigation showed -- beyond any doubt in my book -- that these companies are bogus:

"GAO investigators bought tests from four genetic testing Web sites, including Market America, Genelex, Sciona and Suracell. After collecting cheek swabs from an unrelated man and woman, they used the DNA samples to create profiles of 12 fictitious consumers with different age and lifestyle descriptions.

But the Web sites found different results for each profile.

'If the recommendations were truly based on genetic analysis, then the nine fictitious consumers that GAO created for these sites using the female DNA should have received the same recommendations because their DNA came from the same source. Instead, they received a variety of different recommendations, depending on their fictitious lifestyles,' the GAO report said."
These companies sent massive packets (like, 75-pages worth) of detailed information showing extensive genetic differences between each of the 12 people they thought they tested
(though there actually only tested 2), including diseases they'd be pre-disposed to, custom vitamin regimens they should take (which the companies happen to sell). The results claimed to have found "damaged genes" that would cause heart disease, diabetes, etc. Of course, at this point, there are no such gene defects: Scientists have isolated certain genes that may be connected to these diseases, but they don't know if and how these genes actually cause these problems.

You can read all the statements and see a video of the hearing here; the committee's entire massive report is here; Kathy Hudson's testimony is here, and you can check out the Federal Trade Commission's advisory against these tests here.

Since this investigation was done by a committee with no actual enforcement power, the end result of all this is a recommendation to the federal government that they require oversight of DNA testing, and a warning to consumers saying "a healthy dose of skepticism may be the best prescription," when dealing with these test results. May be? They've essentially been caught falsifying DNA results -- I'd say that warrants more than potential skepticism. I'm thinking that's grounds for full-fledged rejection. Good to keep in mind, since the companies are still operating in full force.

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Anonymous Pat said...

How accurate was their DNA testing for paternity. They did my DNA test to clarify who my father was. What on earth do I do?

4:00 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Skloot said...

I'm not an expert on this, so I'd suggest you contact your doctor. I'm not sure if their paternity testing is in question here -- that's a different kind of DNA testing. The tests in question looked at individuals' DNA samples and created a profile telling them what diseases they were likely to get. That's not really something DNA testing can do at this point. Paternity testing is very different -- if done right, they use the DNA from one person and compare it to the DNA of a potential father to see how well the two samples match. That's straight forward DNA testing, and unlike those other tests, there's no question about whether the science behind paternity testing is legit in general. If in doubt, you could contact the group who investigated the companies to ask them whether the paternity tests were part of the investigation (the group's info is in the reports linked to from this blog posting).

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i done a dna test last year it was off liverpool uk. but recerntly i was told it could not be 100% am worred that my little girl is growing up with out knowing her really farther plz help

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please apply the same skepticism with paternity testing as with the gene testing. They are also completely unregulated with respect to the machinery they use, the regents involved in the testing,and the training of staff. We don't even permit our labs to diagnose strep throat without regulations, now the courts are accepting dna testing without any regulations at all??? Insanity prevails here. Maybe we should be rethinking this. I can be contacted for any evidence required to prove this.

11:59 AM  

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