Genome Testing is Sexy
Genome tests have been in the spotlight for years. Patients have been able to order such tests online with 23andme, Navigenics or Pathway Genomics since 2005, 2006 and 2007. The basic assumption is that anyone can order a test from home and learn about their risks for certain medical conditions, and what lifestyle choices they should make to avoid them. As the saying goes, genetics loads the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger.
It makes a lot of sense to learn about these inherited risks even though they are not always needed to change a particular element of lifestyle habits. I think it should be my right to be able to order a genomic test but then analysis should be closely supported by medical professionals. It is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from data even with them. Without them, it’s fairly impossible.
My Experience with Genetic Tests
I’ve had 4 genomic tests in my life. The previous three I had with Navigenics, Pathway Genomics and My Gentle Labs – with 3 different results and experience. I summarized my findings with Navigenics here. I also analyzed and regularly re-analyze my own raw data with Promethease. As a researcher with a PhD in genomics, it is fascinating to see how such tests work in action. I love the possibility to get insights about my genome as well, not just measuring my vital signs.
This time Futura Genetics offered me a free genetic test and I was happy to give it a try.
Futura Genetics and their Method
The Futura Genetics test is a non-invasive DNA test designed to assess your risk of developing each of the 28 most common conditions worldwide such as lung cancer, lupus, melanoma, migraine, Alzheimer’s disease, breast or bladder cancer. The team of their experts selects the most appropriate genetic markers for each disease, based on their experience.
The process is the following: you order the genetic test, and the company mails you a DNA collection kit. You have to follow the instructions – basically spit and send the sample to Futura Genetics. Then the company notifies you within 4 weeks about your report made available online on your secured account.
So, I gave it a try and soon I received my report in a PDF. In the document they include what exactly they measure and how they are calculating genetic risks. There is a table included about the average risks and your risk, although it is difficult to understand how the average risk is calculated, it might not even be relevant to my population, the Central European Caucasian.
I have made lifestyle choices before to make sure I do everything I can to avoid major medical conditions. But what I learnt from this report was the much higher risk for melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. In the report, they stated that my risk of developing basal cell carcinoma is 1.9 times higher than the average risk. And not only did they provide me with this information, they also advised me to limit sun exposure and protect my skin from sunburns.
I brought the report to my dermatologist who recommended me to use sunscreen all the time when I’m out there. Such as Baz Luhrmann recommended in his famous song full of wise thoughts. Thus, I follow the advice and try to lower genetic risks.
There are not many genetic tests currently available online due to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. Although companies do not need to have clearance for laboratory developed tests (LTDs), the agency says it will exercise its oversight of any diagnostics being marketed directly to consumers. In that sense, it sent letters to three genomic testing companies last year inquiring about clearance numbers for direct marketing to consumers. In theory, they have to suspend production after such warning.
To sum up, I was satisfied with the results of the test. Hopefully, with new technological advances, the cost of even whole genome sequencing will get so low that the real challenge will be analyzing the huge amount of data. It might bring the era of personalized medicine a bit closer.