A Google-backed company, that offers a personal genetic screening to test for diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s will be available in the UK from today despite deep public health concerns in the US. The Department of Health is warning people that they should “think carefully” before using the £125 genomic assessment as “no test is 100 per cent reliable”. America’s public health authority, the Food and Drug Administration, banned the company, 23andMe, from predicting people’s future health after failing to prove the tests were accurate.
Now, the California-based company, set up by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin, is launching in the UK amid questions over whether the science is sound and could drive people to seek out unnecessary treatments. 23andMe – named after the 23 pairs of chromosomes in a human cell – offers its customers reports on more than 100 health and personal traits based on genetic tests carried out on saliva samples. It claims that its Personal Genome Service (PGS) can also unveil genetic secrets about an individual’s ancestry – even telling customers what percentage of their DNA comes from Neanderthals.
Globally, 800,000 people have taken the tests, which are already available in the US and Canada. However, customers in the US do not currently receive information on their health after the FDA temporarily banned 23andMe from marketing the test last year. “Without strong public oversight, we’re back to the era of snake oil,” Marcy Darnovsky, chief executive of the Centre for Genetics and Society, said at the time. The company says it had addressed the concerns raised by the FDA, and the UK test offers health reports on fewer conditions.