Is There a Heart Attack In Your Future?

What are the chances that you will get heart disease, or Alzheimer’s? Or that you’ll get fat? New genetic tests will soon be available to offer people answers to these questions and more, assessing their risk for a range of conditions based on a sample of saliva.
It’s one of the promises of the genetics revolution: Putting personalized medical information directly into the hands of individuals so they can make informed choices about their health. Yet despite the potential, there are several reasons people might not yet embrace such tests — including skepticism about their scientific soundness, steep prices and insurance and privacy issues.
Indeed, many genetic experts believe predictive gene-based tests aren’t ready for wide use. Besides questions about accuracy, there is also the issue of how useful the answers will be. There’s no evidence, many physicians say, that people will act on such information to lead healthier lives. Little is known about the interplay of genetic and nongenetic factors such as diet, exercise, smoking and pollution that also affect a person’s risk for disease. And few doctors are well-versed in how to interpret genetic tests or what to tell patients based on the results.
One such test is set to be announced today by Navigenics Inc. of Redwood Shores, Calif. Called Health Compass, the test will be available starting early next year and will be offered directly to consumers via the Internet — circumventing the traditional doctor-patient relationship. The company believes people will want to take the $2,500 test when they’re healthy, and then make lifestyle and other changes to avoid or delay disease. Results, which will be posted on a Web site that customers access with a password, will tell consumers their risk for more than 20 conditions, including diabetes, obesity, prostate cancer and glaucoma. Consumers would learn how their risk compares with the general population’s, and what strategies they can follow to possibly reduce their chances of developing it.
“When you’re reading your genetic risk and you realize that you might get this disease, that’s when it’s real and relevant,” says Mari Baker, chief executive of the San Francisco-based start-up. For consumers, the test will say, “What I might get and what I might start doing today so I don’t get it in the future.”
Another company, 23andme Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., is working on a similar direct-to-consumer test that outsiders say will provide gene-based ancestry and health-related information. The company isn’t providing details until it is ready to launch the product, possibly by the end of the year.
These tests are part of a larger rush to capitalize on the growing body of genetic information that has been emerging since scientists finished mapping the human genome. Silicon Valley venture-capital firms Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital are among Navigenics’ backer, while biotech giant Genentech Inc. and Google Inc. are among those financing 23andme.
{“Don’t ever get a genetic test unless you use an alias. It is simply not safe—although state laws and medical ethics say that your test results cannot be disclosed without your consent, in reality there is no way any of us can control our personal electronic health information. The electronic healthcare system is NOT set up to ensure that we control all access to our health information. And there is no federal law to stop employers or insurers from using genetic data to discriminate against you and your children and relatives. The vast majority of electronic health systems in use today everywhere in America are set up to facilitate the data mining and theft of our health records. Even companies that offer genetic tests directly to consumers cannot be trusted. Many sell the data to other users, sometimes they say the data is aggregated, sometimes not. Aggregated data can easily be re-identified. There is NO WAY to tell which companies sell your genetic data and which do not, because using your personal health information for business purposes without your consent is legal under the gutted misnamed HIPAA Privacy Rule.” ~Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}

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