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Ethical issues raised by direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing

Congratulations! You are the lucky winner of a Stanford Hospital/Medical Center trifecta.  You'll notice that my co-blogger-in-crime, Bradley Kreit, wrote the other day about the hospital's experimental drive-thu ER program, and I recently blogged about its new in-patient menu.  Although Stanford is in our backyard, I promise you that has nothing to do with our sudden focus on news from there.  Nonetheless, here is our third item in a row.

When the real world starts to catch up with science fiction

Unlike some of my colleagues at the 'tute, I am not a big science fiction fan, which may explain why I was unfamiliar with the movie, Gattaca.  It was brought to my attention during a discussion of probabilistic medicine, which is an idea based on knowing the probability of risk one bears for developing certain diseases. 

Check out this clip:

Four Ps represent the future of medicine

Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) claims a trademark in the term "P4 Medicine," which represents its take on the future of health care: Predictive, Preventive, Personalized, and Participatory. It emphasizes improved personal measurements and personalized treatments as the key to improving health care.

As the ISB website explains, "The goal of systems biology is to fundamentally transform the practice of medicine."  How will medicine change?  Let's go back to the four Ps:

DNA-based dating

Courtesy of TechCrunch, a tangentially related health story . . . GenePartner, a dating site that looks for potential matches based on DNA compatibility. The Swiss company uses a $199 DNA test to help you find your statistically perfect mate.

Cease-and-desist letter sent to California-based personalized genetics startups

California likes to think of itself as a high-tech friendly place, and generally it is. However, Alexis Madrigal reports that the state government has decided to go after personal genetics companies:

Last Monday, the state's laboratory field services group issued 13 cease-and-desist letters to genetic testing companies. obtained a copy of the letters (pdf.) from two recipients. And the tough talk in a recent teleconference among regulatory officials confirms the seriousness of the department's intent.

"We [are] no longer tolerating direct-to-consumer genetic testing in California," Karen Nickles, Chief of Laboratory Field Services at the health department, told members of the Clinical Laboratories Advisory Committee on June 13.

Targeted companies include personal genomics startups 23andMe and Navigenics. These services are seen as the leading edge of a new type of health care in which consumers can use their genetic profile to tailor their medical and lifestyle choices. The established medical community, however, is wary of the technology arguing that the medical utility of some tests is unproven. Doctors also complain that direct-to-consumer services bypass them as the gatekeepers and analysts of medical information, which they worry could confuse consumers, not to mention cost them a billing event.

The health department's actions are a direct challenge to the viability of the infant DNA-testing industry, for which physician involvement is shaping up to be a major battleground. As far back as a September 2006 meeting, health department officials were voicing concerns over "nutrigenetic tests that analyze a limited number of genes to give personalized nutritional and lifestyle recommendations."

(via Virginia Postrel's Dynamist Blog)

DNA testing companies come under scrutiny

Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News broke stories yesterday about impending investigaitons by the Departments of Public Health in California and New York into six online genetic testing companies.

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