Home DNA testing has exploded in popularity recently. Over 30 million kits have been sold, and presumably used, already. This isn’t a surprise because they make genetic testing affordable and available to everyone.
News broadcasts are constantly filled with reports of how the advancements in medicine are directly connected to the advancements in gene identification. So, DNA tests are seen as a nearly “magical” method of diagnostics.
Having read some of those news articles, a person who has little real understanding of how genetic testing works could think DNA tests can diagnose or even prevent many diseases. However, it’s all much more complicated. And for all that at-home DNA kits can be useful, they are also a huge risk.
What Can Home DNA Test Kits Detect?
The most important thing for you to know is that the majority of direct-to-consumer DNA tests are unable to detect any diseases.
They are not a diagnostic tool and shouldn’t be used as such. They are only able to provide you with general information about the “blueprint” of your genetic code.
This information might include data on certain predispositions, like a propensity for obesity or generalized data about how your body would respond to athletic exercise. However, the accuracy of that information varies depending on the test.
That said, these tests are progressing in their accuracy and capability to detect health issues. Recently, 23andMe tests gained FDA approval to test for ten conditions and diseases that have proven genetic risks.
The conditions are:
- Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (increases the risk of liver and lung diseases)
- Factor X1 deficiency (blood clotting disorder)
- Hereditary thrombophilia
- Celiac disease
- Early-onset primary dystonia
- Hereditary hemochromatosis
- Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
- Gaucher disease type 1
Please note that the 23andMe is the only direct-to-consumer product approved to test for these diseases.
And even then, the results might not be totally accurate. This is always a risk with DNA testing. Therefore, it’s imperative to consult a doctor if you have any health concerns.
What Can Professional Genetic Testing Detect?
Professional DNA tests conducted in specialized medical labs are much more sophisticated than direct-to-consumer products. They focus on individual gene expressions.
This means that they can test for a specific part of the DNA related to certain diseases. This type of DNA testing can be used to diagnose genetic conditions and identify the risk of diseases that are caused by specific genes.
Remember that home DNA testing kits can only provide the most generalized information. Professional DNA tests prescribed by doctors can identify real specific risks.
But even the best genetic testing technology is unable to predict if you will develop a disease, for example, cancer, with 100% accuracy. This is because the majority of diseases are affected by many factors and DNA is only one of them.
Why You Should Be Wary of Home DNA Testing Kits
When you take a home DNA test, you give your genetic information to a very poorly-regulated company. Therefore, you should be very concerned about the matter of genetic testing privacy.
And the most important thing to know about it is that there is no privacy in direct-to-consumer DNA testing.
The company you buy the test from is sure to promise that it will protect your privacy. However, this only means that it might erase your name so it’s not associated with a specific set of genetic data.
But the company will sell its DNA databases to third parties. Therefore, even if your name isn’t on it, your information will still be out there.
In the digital age that we live in, breaching the security of that data is extremely easy. This means that your name and other personal information might not be as secret as you hope.
This risk is very real and even the Pentagon has issued a warning about it. You only need to google DNA database hacks to learn that nearly all major testing companies had their databases breached and information leaked.
In Conclusion: Will Home DNA Testing Kits Revolutionize the Global Health Industry?
There can be no doubt that home DNA testing kits are fun to use and can offer some handy information. Customers seem to like them well enough, even while taking the results and recommendations with a pinch of salt. But in their current form, these tests offer no real value to the healthcare industry.
Moreover, considering the rampant privacy issues and the fact that some of the “results” you might get are downright unethical, these tests should be treated with caution.
However, even with all that in mind, there is no denying the fact that the potential of DNA testing is tremendous. Every day scientists seem to identify new connections between genes and diseases. Understanding those might be the key to not only cure but prevent those conditions.
In time, this technology might save millions of lives. It might even eliminate some diseases completely.
The most important thing is that home DNA testing kits prove this technology can become available.
As they are now, these basic genetic tests are of little help to healthcare. But they evolve constantly. They appeared on the market about a decade ago and today there is already one test that can identify ten serious health disorders. The progress is constant and the promise is great.
But while all this can happen in the future, today direct-to-consumer DNA testing is a personal security risk. Keep this in mind if you want to try using one of these kits.