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Direct-to-consumer genetic test kits coming soon to a drug store near you

May 11, 2010 |  1:09 pm

Shoppers who go to the drug store to fill their Plavix prescriptions or pick up a bottle of prenatal vitamins may soon find themselves reconsidering these mundane purchases.

Walgreens The reason? A new genetic testing kit that will hit the shelves of select Walgreens stores later this month. The test could potentially tell you that taking Plavix increases your risk of heart attack or stroke, or that your baby could inherit a fatal genetic disease.

Companies such as 23andMe and Navigenics have been selling testing kits directly to consumers over the Internet for years. But a San Diego-based start-up firm called Pathway Genomics announced Tuesday that it would offer its Insight Saliva Collection Kits at Walgreens for $20 to $30 (the exact price has not yet been determined).

The kit includes directions for collecting a sample of spit and a pre-addressed, postage-paid envelope in which to ship the sample back to Pathway’s lab. Customers would then go to the company’s website and order up to three genetic tests.

One purports to measure risk factors for diseases such as glaucoma, asthma and Alzheimer’s; another gauges the effectiveness of drugs, including statins such as Plavix and the blood thinner warfarin; and a third ascertains whether you are a carrier for cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease or dozens of other genetic disorders that could be passed along to your baby. Prices for these tests range from $79 to $179.

The medical establishment generally frowns on these types of direct-to-consumer genetic tests, especially those that claim they can predict your risk for diseases based on mutations in your DNA. It isn’t unusual for scientists to report that a particular mutation in a particular gene appears to increase the risk for conditions such as heart disease or autism, only to have subsequent studies draw the opposite conclusion.

In addition, the National Society of Genetic Counselors responded to Pathway Genomics’ product launch by urging people who are curious about their DNA to consult a professional before ordering a kit. At the very least, they advised shoppers to consider the following:

  • Is this the best test to assess your genetic risk for a particular disease or condition?
  • Is this test scientifically verified?
  • Will a professional with genetics expertise be available to help you interpret the results?
  • Have you thought about how you would use the information the tests might reveal?
  • Could the results have implications for your family members as well as yourself?

Here’s a press release from Pathway Genomics, and here’s the statement from the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: A Walgreens checkout counter. Credit: JB Reed / Bloomberg

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