At-home genetic testing is becoming more and more popular. People are curious about their ancestry, and this seems like a pretty easy way to find out more about how you got to be you.
But now, these at-home DNA self-test kits promise everything from your ancestry to your genetic pre-disposition for certain diseases.
News13’s morning anchor, Patsy Kelly, chose the DNA testing company 23AndMe to test its accuracy. It recently got FDA authorization for the first ever direct-to-consumer genetic test for an inherited risk for cancer.
For $200, 23AndMe offers insight into your genetic health risks, carrier status, traits, wellness, and ancestry. It analyzes and compiles the information extracted from your DNA. It’s pretty easy: spit in a tube, package it up, send it off, and in about six weeks, you can find out what your DNA says about your ancestry and health risks.
Patsy talked to a genetic counselor to see how accurate this testing can be and asked how seriously you can take the medical results provided in the service.
“To read whether you’re more likely to have red hair or freckles or widow’s peak. Some of those things might be really fun. And I always support people wanting to learn more about genetics,” says Erin Huggins, a Tidelands Health Genetic Counselor.
23AndMe claims Patsy is 100-percent European, which she says isn’t too surprising. But, it also deduced she’s almost 60-percent French and German, which she says was a little surprising.
“What they’re doing when they’re looking at your ancestry is they’re comparing your DNA, variants found in your DNA, to a database. So, it varies bit by bit, from labs based on what data they’ve collected. I do know that 23andMe, everything they run in their labs, are all certified, so you could say it’s legit. But, I think you’re going to find some variations in your ancestry depending on which lab you use,” Huggins also says.
Patsy’s health results came back with three issues she wanted to address with a genetic counselor: a slightly increased risk for celiac disease, an auto-immune condition, a variant detected for hereditary hemochromatosis, a genetic iron condition, and a variant detected for M-CAD deficiency, a rare genetic disorder that deals with very low blood sugar.
“So what this means essentially is you have two copies of this gene. You inherit one copy from your mom, one from your dad. So you have a variant or mutation in one of those. So that doesn’t mean you have the condition, it means you’re a carrier of the condition.”
“If you and your partner are both carriers, each of your children will have a 25-percent chance of having this condition. So that’s some pretty heavy information. So this is something I’d recommend talking to a genetic counselor or another genetics professional,” said Huggins.
A lot of information comes with each of these genetic health risk reports from 23AndMe. But, before you ditch the doctor, direct-to-consumer testing, like 23AndMe, has limits to what it can test for. These DNA kits only test for a certain set of variants or mutations of each gene.These tests aren’t meant to “diagnose” diseases or make medical decisions, as clearly stated on its website. However, it does give you information you might not have thought about before. Knowing you have a pre-disposition to a certain health concern could change your thoughts on how to move forward with your health, and if you should talk to a genetic professional.
“I think the number one role of a genetic counselor is to help patients understand their healthcare. So we take these really complex genetic concepts and break them down in terms that are understandable by the general population because genetics can be really confusing and really scary.”
Huggins thinks it’s great people are becoming more interested in learning about genetics, especially how it applies to their health. Once you learn about your pre-dispositions, you can see your doctor and discuss if you should screen for something you might not have known about before. In that way, it can be life-saving to see a genetic counselor if you decide a DNA test is the way to go.
If you’d like to talk to a genetic counselor, contact Tidelands Health in Murrells Inlet or visit their website at www.tidelandshealth.org/