Over-the-counter genetic testing kits at your local drugstore

Paul Raven @ 12-05-2010

As of this Friday, Walgreens customers in the US will be able to purchase a home-use genetic testing kit for US$30 or less… though access to the results (via the Pathway Genomics website) could cost another $200 or more, depending on what the user wants to know [via MetaFilter].

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.

“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.”

[…]

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.

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.

People with important job titles are not impressed:

“This is a horrible idea,” says Dr. Michael Grodin, professor of bioethics, human rights, family medicine and psychiatry at Boston University. “Genetic testing is a complex, difficult and emotionally laden medical process which requires extensive counseling, contextualization and interpretation.”

Lee Vermeulen, director for the Center for Drug Policy at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, agrees, calling the test “reckless and inappropriate.”

“Regardless of whether they are told they are at low or high risk, the impact on their future behaviors will be affected substantially and inappropriately,” he says.

A high-risk result may alarm the consumer needlessly, doctors say, and a low-risk one may provide a false sense of security, lulling consumers to pay less attention to their health habits and skip preventive medical screenings.

Doctors also said genetic factors can only explain a portion of disease risk, and were concerned that customers getting a genetic “clean bill of health” would mistakenly think they were in the clear.

I’d be the first to say that you should have access to your own genetic code-base, but given the general public’s incredible susceptibility to quackery, oversimplification and medical mythinformation, getting any genuine use from it will remain the province of the highly-trained, while the fast money will be found in giving people the interpretations they most want to hear (or already fear to be true). The Food & Drug Administration is looking into the Pathway kits (which have allegedly never been approved by them for sale to the general public), but I think we can assume Pandora’s box to have been irrevocably opened at this point.

Or perhaps I’m being overly cynical again – might consumer-level genetic testing, combined with the internet’s open access to vast swathes of medical data, actually help us become healthier?


The consumer recovery is a fiction

Paul Raven @ 19-08-2009

bankruptcy sale signs - tough times at Circuit CityAs Tom has set the tone already, how’s about some more economics?

This one’s even bleaker than the prospect of another bubble in the pipeline: John Robb explains why the consumer recovery being trumpeted desperately by newspapers everywhere is, at best, wishful thinking:

The driver of this fragility is that 75% of a typical American families budget (not counting education costs of kids) is dedicated to fixed expenses. This means that the loss a small as 10% in a family’s income would be sufficient to force failure. Combine this fragility with increasing income volatility and even the slightest shock will set off a wave of extreme frugality and mushrooming financial failure at the household level. In the past, we were able to hide this fragility through increased debt/bubbles. That’s over. We’ve already taken on as much debt (375% of GDP right now, and still climbing) as we can acquire and the banks are hoarding the bulk of federal cash infusions to paper over their insolvency (almost all of the toxic assets from last fall’s debacle are still in place, and more are en route from commercial real-estate).

Part of me would like to think Robb is wrong, but his ideas – and those of other outsider analysts like him – have the ring of truth about them, simply because they’re the only people who aren’t telling us what we desperately want to hear (which just so happens to be what governments and economists want us to believe).

Meanwhile, TomorrowMuseum points to an article at the Wall Street Journal that attempts to “remove the stigma of bankruptcy:

As long the economy stays grim, bankruptcy filings will become increasingly common – which may diminish the stigma that accompanies bankruptcy. It is, in a sense, surprising that so many Americans should still feel ashamed of bankruptcy when those in a far more comfortable situation feel no such chagrin. Corporate bankruptcies are an accepted part of doing business from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Executives who collect $30 million from a bank in the years before it collapses are not expected to give it back.

Most striking to me as a European, though, is this bit at the beginning of the essay:

… too many people are talking about bankruptcy as if it’s a sign this country’s social safety net has failed. It isn’t. Bankruptcy is part of the safety net. Other countries have welfare states, America has bankruptcy.

Now, I’m no economist, I’ll freely admit… but from where I’m sat that sounds like something the Queen of Hearts might have said if Alice in Wonderland had been a satire on economics. Either that, or a contender for Panglossian statement of the decade. [image by quinn.anya]