Twenty three and me is a company that provides a personal genetic profile for $99, using a small sample of your saliva. How does it work? The take your sample and analyze the cast-off cells from the lining of your mouth that you send in via a swab of the cheek. Then, using the most sophisticated genetic testing equipment available, they completely analyze your library of genes in those cells and compare them to a library of known variations for 100’s of disease and tendencies. They then give you a report about your genetic analysis compared to their database.
Recently, the FDA shut-down their service, claiming that the information they provide requires regulation so that their clients can get advice from a professional, and that providing this information directly to people without assistance to interpret the results, will lead to confusion and worry about their genetic tendencies.
This entire enterprise is fraught with complexities and questions of usefulness, but there is no question that the ability to quickly analyze people’s genes is going to be a reality in the near future; how we use this information and what value it can have is really up in the air. The cost of sequencing a person’s entire genome is rapidly falling, resulting in the general availability of this type of testing for the general population. 23and me is just the first to bring this information directly to the consumer market. Where this will all lead is really anyone’s guess. Knowing that you have a statistical tendency toward a disease does not mean that it will be clinically relevant and have an impact on your health, and such information may lead to unnecessary worry, concern, and testing as the FDA has identified. But, there is no question we are all going to get this information, particularly those in their teens and 20’s, as this will be applicable in clinical practice before they reach their 60’s and beyond.