DNA testing is wave of the future
DNA testing is on the rise here, as more and more people are opting to take a closer look at their genetic makeup, including familial ties and diseases.
While most private genetic labs still cite paternity tests as the most popular, they also note a jump in what is often referred to as preventive gene testing.
“This is done by people interested in their health and diseases. They aren’t ill [but] just want to know more about the possibilities of disease,” says Martin Pegner, CEO of DNAtest.cz. “There is a potential, based on your genes, for example, [that] you could live to be 100 years old. People are interested in this area, even though everything isn’t genetic. There are well-known genetic diseases that can be tested, but with other diseases, there is only a chance you may develop them.”
Marianna Romžová, head of the molecular-biology laboratory at GHC Genetics, says there are different results a genetic health test can produce.
“In medical genetics, you may perform a diagnostic test in which you discover a person has the gene and the disease. There are also carrier tests, in which the person is nonsymptomatic but may have the gene. Here, there is a risk that, if two parents are carriers, they may have a child born with a certain disease,” she explains. “Finally, there is predictive testing, testing for family diseases.”
It’s this last test that the companies focus on when it comes to interpreting the results.
“Predictive testing tests multifactor diseases, which means you can influence the disease by your lifestyle,” Romžová explains. “Having the gene may predispose you to the disease, but you can help protect yourself from the disease.”
A simple cheek-swab sample can reveal a great deal of information about the genetic history — or potential medical future — of a patient. However, this data doesn’t come cheap. Such tests through private labs can cost in the tens of thousands of crowns and generally are not covered by health insurance.
Companies admit that this makes the tests difficult to market if patients know they have to cover the expense themselves.
“Predictive testing is very important for the prevention of diseases, and people aren’t used to that here,” Romžová says. “They have it [a disease], and then they react. But it makes sense for you to know the risks so you can help prevent it.”
DNAtest.cz’s Pegner adds that clients should consult a doctor before signing up for a particular test.
“Each test costs money. So the most popular decision is that the client chooses to test for specific diseases,” he says.
Pegner adds that the first consultation is necessary to see what the client’s expectations are. Following the results, he or she will have a follow-up session with the doctor to discuss the results and receive explanations and advice.
Romžová says the results from her lab’s GenScan test are very complete.
“Clients receive a 100-page book plus a consultation with doctors to interpret the results,” she says. “The book includes disease and gene descriptions, as well as recommendations based on the client’s risk.”
The Health Ministry has varying opinions on the subject of predictive gene testing.
“I see it as another convenience of modern medicine, and it is really essential that everyone is guaranteed that no one abuses their very intimate and sensitive information,” says Tomáš Cikrt, the Health Ministry spokesperson. “Making use of genetic testing is a private decision. Predictive genetic testing is tempting in, for example, determining paternity, and if [the information is] used incorrectly, it might disturb family relationships. Similarly, predicting diseases can make some people worry unnecessarily and be under psychic stress.”
The protection of the DNA samples is something that companies take very seriously. Pegner says they destroy all samples, while GHC has an advanced double coding system for their samples and also destroys them when the tests are completed.
But gene testing can also be used for a more recreational purpose.
Marek Minárik, the director of Genomac International, says his was the first lab in the country to offer ancestry testing through their GenoGraf test. Here, you can find out what part of the world your ancestors came from based on DNA information in the lab’s public DNA database. Genomac has also participated in a number of gene research projects, studying DNA mutations in such diseases as pancreatic, prostrate and lung cancer, as well as inherited cardiovascular diseases. Thanks to this research, they offer additional specialized testing.
“We now run certain medical tests directed at the prediction of therapy response in cancer treatment,” Minárik explains.
A DNA test is surprisingly simple, and most labs offer mail-in kits over the Internet. Such kits are offered on DNAtest.cz offers.
“All tests are saliva-based,” Pegner explains. “You need to extract the DNA from the cells, and it’s the same DNA no matter what part of the body it comes from.”
The kit consists of a large brush, similar to a cosmetic applicator, that you use to wipe the inside of your cheek. You then wipe the sample on a card to ensure you have enough cells. If you do, the card will change colors, and then you send the brush back in a plastic tube. Result times vary based on what type of test you are having done.
For whatever reason you may choose to participate in genetic testing, make sure you are well-informed about the results from your particular test.
“The results shouldn’t be overestimated,” Pegner says. “There are different reasons why people want to know and what they choose to do with the results. People need to be aware that, depending on what gene and how far scientific research has come, sometimes it changes.”