Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Unsolicited Ad for Genetic Testing

Some time ago, my elder son persuaded me to pay for genetic testing by 23andMe. They send you a test kit, you provide some saliva, they test it. They then tell you what the genetic information implies about medical problems you are more or less likely than average to have and where your distant ancestors come from, and make it possible, if you wish, to get in touch with putative relatives, people who have also been tested and whose genetic information suggests common ancestry not too far back. 

They also invite you to answer a bunch of questions about yourself designed to generate additional information about what genetic characteristics correlate with what outcomes, information that can then be used to, among other things, better inform their other customers. Thus getting tested not only provides some private benefits, it also increases the existing store of information about the results of different gene variants, which strikes me as a good thing to do.

I have two pieces of evidence that their service is real. The main one is that they correctly identified my son as my son. The minor one is that they told me I had an above average chance of a particular sort of tumor. The information was not useful, however, since it arrived after the tumor had been diagnosed and removed.

I recently got an email from them, announcing a sale—$99 for their services, which I think is what I paid but is less than their standard price. I thought some of my readers might be interested, hence this post.


Phil said...

Just ordered. Thanks!

BG said...

The $99 dollars is offered without their subscription fee that they used to charge. This technology keeps getting cheaper and provides more value every year.

Patri Friedman said...

Unfortunately right now, the general knowledge about genetic effects is fairly modest, 23andme doesn't sequence your whole genome, and they use a relatively small database of highly validated results (they seem more worried about being sued for inaccuracy than having too limited a product). So while they have some actionable info (like my APOE4) and a decent number of genetic disease carriers, most of the info is on the order of "you have a 4% risk of X instead of the usual 2.5%", which isn't that useful.

I think the huge gains will come over time, both from ongoing research around the world, and the public benefit you mention - the huge database of genes, plus the surveys they offer, will help them learn more about disease risks. But because genes have small cumulative probabilistic effects for most conditions, it will take a lot of research before we know enough small effects for them to accumulate to large total effects which are then actionable.

Deepa said...

What about epigenetics though?

It makes the environment more of a factor than was previously known, in how our genes are expressed.

This might mean that the information 23andme gives us, is even more useless than was known before the rise of epigenetics!

Maybe it's still worth the $99 though.