Watch any murder mystery on television and you know investigators rely on DNA evidence to solve crimes. DNA is our own personal genetic code. We can use it to solve all kinds of mysteries, such as information about our ancestors and what types of diseases we are prone to acquire.
Recently, certain genetic testing companies figured out a way to make an at-home test that tells you all about your heritage. They are doing very well because it's relatively cheap, easy and accurate. All you do is swab the inside of your cheek. That little bit of skin that rubs off contains plenty of DNA. Then you send it in to the company, for a fee of course. They analyze the DNA and can tell by your genetic makeup where your ancestors lived, such as in eastern Europe, Africa, or all of the above, adding what percentage of your DNA contains the various hereditary components.
Now one of these companies is using the exact same technique they use to determine a person's ancestry to also figure out which diseases a person might be prone to get. The company is called "23andMe." Their name refers to the 23 chromosomes that make-up a person's DNA. Other genetic testing companies are sure to begin offering the service as well.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just gave approval to 23andMe to market the at-home disease test. According to CNN it will tell you if you are genetically predisposed to acquire the following 11 conditions:
- Late-onset Alzheimer's
- Celiac disease
- Early-onset Primary Dystonia (a movement disorder)
- Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (which elevates your risk for lung and liver disease)
- Factor XI deficiency (a blood clotting disorder)
- Hereditary thrombophilia (another blood clot disorder.
- Gaucher disease type 1 (an organ and tissue disorder)
- G6PD (a red blood cell condition)
- Hereditary Hemochromatosis (an iron overload disorder)
- Bloom Syndrome (elevates risk for cancer)
"The FDA has embraced innovation and has empowered people by authorizing direct access to this information," 23andMe co-founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki said in a statement. "It is a significant step forward for 23andMe and for the adoption of personal genetics."
23andMe said it will continue to work with the FDA to get its tests approved for other diseases.
Back in 2013 the FDA lowered the boom on 23andMe by telling them to re-think their at-home DNA test that checked for a genetic link to a much larger number of diseases. The government agency was concerned that customers who got inaccurate results indicating a positive link to one of the diseases could suffer undue mental anguish or make medical decisions that were unnecessary.
Customers who use the test are warned that a positive result for a certain condition does not mean you have it. It means your genes are such that you are more likely than other people to get it. However, even with that said, it doesn't mean you will get it. It only means you are statistically more at risk to get it than people without the gene or genes.
Researchers have discovered that genetics only plays a part in whether a person gets sick. Lifestyle factors into it, as well. For example, things like diet and exercise can determine whether a person gets a disease.
Nevertheless, knowing you are genetically predisposed can be useful information. The at-home tests can be a starting point. After testing positive for a gene related to a certain condition or disease, customers are advised to talk to their doctor about future testing and taking preventive measures.