Just about everyday we see advertisements from Mail order companies marketing risks of genetic disorders, or late-onset Alzheimer’s. Well, for about $100 and a vial full of saliva, you can find out if Parkinson’s is climbing your family tree via a mail-in testing kit. After a new ruling from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumers can bypass doctors for the first time, to learn if they have a genetic risk for 10 diseases. Have you wondered about your Genetics & want to know more?. . . here goes.
What is genetic testing?
Genetic testing is a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. More than 1,000 genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.Several methods can be used for genetic testing:
- Molecular genetic tests (or gene tests) study single genes or short lengths of DNA to identify variations or mutations that lead to a genetic disorder.
- Chromosomal genetic tests analyze whole chromosomes or long lengths of DNA to see if there are large genetic changes, such as an extra copy of a chromosome, that cause a genetic condition.
- Biochemical genetic tests study the amount or activity level of proteins; abnormalities in either can indicate changes to the DNA that result in a genetic disorder.
- It’s simple: order, spit, ship, and wait.
Because testing has benefits as well as limitations and risks, the decision about whether to be tested is a personal and complex one. A geneticist or genetic counselor can help by providing information about the pros and cons of the test and discussing the social and emotional aspects of testing. This type of testing has been in the news for years, often as part of criminal trials or paternity suits. Doctors and medical researchers have long used genetic testing to diagnose ailments and assess disease risks. But the FDA had been wary of allowing consumers to take matters into their own hands. Does the science support consistent links between certain genetic variants and diseases? And can consumers understand the key concepts in the test reports they get back?