Over-the-Counter DNA Testing: Wave of the Future or Waste of Money?

Personalized DNA testing is coming to a Walgreens near you this Friday, thanks to a partnership between the drugstore and Pathway Genomics, a San Diego company that markets at-home genetic testing.

Using this at-home "spit kit", consumers can discover their genetic risk for disorders like Alzheimer's, diabetes, and breast cancer. They can see if they're at risk for passing on genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis to their children.

VIDEO: New Over-The Counter DNA Tests

All it takes is the Walgreens collection kit (which retails for between $20 and $30), a gob of saliva, and access to the Internet.

But doctors and geneticists fear the worst for this new over-the-counter access to genetic testing.

With no physician to interpret the results of the test, and no FDA regulation of how results are processed or delivered, there is the potential for consumers to misinterpret what their risk really means for their health and their lifestyle.

Though mail-order DNA tests have been available over the Internet since 2007, Pathway Genomic's new campaign brings the personalized genomics market to a neighborhood near you, hopefully lending an air of trust and familiarity to the practice, says vice president of marketing at the company, Chris D'Eon.

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"People trust their pharmacy and their pharmacist," he says. "The world is moving towards a preventive health society and working with Walgreens is a huge opportunity to market [personalized genetic screening] to more people, faster."

Considering that Pathway Genomics is just one of many companies offering this service (whether online or over-the-counter), it appears that personalized, doctor-free DNA screening is here to stay.

The question is, can it be done safely?

Customers who purchase Pathway Genomics' "Insight Saliva Collection Kit" will collect their samples at home and return them (a postage-paid box is included) to the company. From there, all other steps are online. Customers need to buy the actual tests on their DNA separately and will receive their reports in about eight weeks via e-mail.

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A report on how you will respond to drugs like statins or Tamoxifen runs $79. A pre-pregnancy planning report, which provides information on your baby's risk for genetic disorders, is $179, and a comprehensive test, including your personal risk on a number of diseases, is $249.

The Pitfalls of At-Home DNA Testing

While picking up a DNA kit at your corner drugstore sounds revolutionary, similar DNA "spit kits" have been available online for years.

"Consumers already have this access," says Misha Angrist, assistant professor at Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and author of "Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics."

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Personal genomics companies such as 23andMe and deCODEme offered the first-ever direct-to-consumer genetic tests three years ago, she notes, and Pathway Genomics is a latecomer which is "now trying to make a splash by going the drugstore route."

The only new feature is that the initial kit can be bought in person and the testing options are a little more affordable, but this hasn't stopped doctors from expressing their concern over this new development.

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