Kira Peikoff, 28, writes for the New York Times on her experience with DNA picturing.
I like to plan ahead; that much I knew about myself before I plunged into exploring my genetic code. I’m a healthy 28-year-old woman, but some nasty diseases run in my family: coronary heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s and breast cancer.
So I decided to read the tea leaves of my DNA. I reasoned that it was worth learning painful information if it might help me avert future illness.
Like others, I turned to genetic testing, but I wondered if I could trust the nascent field to give me reliable results. In recent years, a handful of studies have found substantial variations in the risks for common diseases predicted by direct-to-consumer companies.
I set out to test the tests: Could three of them agree on me?
The answers were eye-opening— and I received them just as one of the companies, 23andMe, received a stern warning from the Food and Drug Administration over concerns about the accuracy of its product. At a time when the future of such companies hangs in the balance, their ability to deliver standardized results remains dubious, with far-reaching implications for consumers.
My experiment ran into hurdles from the start. After I ordered 23andMe’s saliva test kit, which for $99 promised a report on more than 240 health conditions and traits, it turned out that I could not legally send it in; the New York State Health Department forbids any labs that lack a state permit to accept specimens from a health-related test. Luckily, my in-laws mailed it from their home in New Jersey.
Then I learned that the other two companies I planned to approach were no longer offering genetic testing. Additional research led me to two more: Genetic Testing Laboratories and Pathway Genomics. G.T.L. charged $285 for a report on 25 disease risks, and required a professional sample collector to draw blood; Pathway charged $399 for a report on 24 disease risks. (In 2010, Pathway planned to sell its saliva test kit at Walgreens, but abandoned the idea after the F.D.A. challenged the sales. Now Pathway requires a doctor to order a kit on a patient’s behalf.)