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Are Commercial Genetic Tests Worth Taking?
Date:10/14/2009

Experts cautious about validity, usefulness of some on the market

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Peter Orszag, the 40-year-old head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, is reported to drink so much tea, hot and iced, that he took a genetic test to see if his body could metabolize his voluminous intake of caffeine.

According to the results, his body is perfectly suited to the task, and Orszag can easily go about his busy day, according to published reports.

Like Orszag, droves of people are flocking to get genetic tests -- which are now marketed direct-to-consumer -- ranging from the $179 CaffeineGen to assess caffeine metabolism to those that claim to gauge risk for Alzheimer's disease. There's also a $79 HomeDNA Home Paternity Testing System that includes, for an additional $25, lab services for the "alleged" father and one child.

But whether or not the commercially available genetic tests currently entering the market actually provide any useful information is another question.

According to Dr. Muin J. Khoury, director of the Office of Public Health Genomics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 1,800 to 2,000 genetic tests have been developed, most of which are relevant only to rare genetic conditions that don't affect too many people.

"A growing number of these tests are suggested to be used to target interventions [pharmacogenetics], and to do early detection or susceptibility testing," Khoury said.

Khoury participated in a recent conference hosted by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., that looked at direct-to-consumer marketing of genetic tests. Among other things, panelists discussed how valid and useful these tests are. Probably some will prove useful, and some will not, the experts said.

"With very few exceptions, we still have some big gaps in evidence," said Dr. Marc S. Williams, director of clinical
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