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Does Genetic Testing Impact Lifestyle Changes?

October 9, 2008

Researchers will soon conduct the first study to assess whether people undergoing genetic testing ultimately change their behavior, the San Diego’s Scripps Translational Science Institute said on Thursday

Participants of the study over the age of 18 can receive a scan of their genome — using a saliva sample — and an analysis of their genetic risk for more than 20 health conditions that may be changed by lifestyle, including diabetes, obesity, heart attack and some forms of cancer.

Navigenics Inc scans will be offered using gene chip technology from Affymetrix Inc to up to 10,000 employees, family members and friends of the nonprofit Scripps Health system. The research will assess changes in behaviors over a 20-year period.

The study hopes to discover whether the testing will improve health by motivating people to make lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating better and quitting smoking, or seek further medical evaluation and preventive strategies.

“Genome scans give people considerable information about their DNA and risk of disease, yet questions have been raised if these tests are ready for widespread public use,” said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps unit and principal investigator of the study.

Some companies are already selling genetic scans, but their efforts have come under scrutiny from regulators questioning the accuracy and validity of the tests.

Navigenics and Google-funded 23andMe received clearance from California’s Department of Public Health to do business in the state, which previously ordered 13 genetic testing companies to stop selling directly to consumers.

Guidance on how to use the scan results to improve health outcomes will be available to participants on Navigenics’ secure website, Scripps said. They will also be able to enter and store medical and lifestyle information in an individual account on Microsoft Corp’s HealthVault.

Dr. Vance Vanier, chief medical officer at Navigenics, said in a statement: “We stand upon the threshold of a fundamental paradigm shift from reactive to predictive and preventive medicine.”

Scripps said a number of safeguards will be in place to protect the privacy of participants’ genetic information.

Image Courtesy George Gastin – Wikipedia

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