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Genetic testing companies under scrutiny; UC Berkeley to test frosh genes

Three private genetic testing companies are under federal investigation after one company, Pathway, attempted to sell one of its test kits as a medical test without FDA review. Meanwhile, UC Berkeley is asking freshman for their DNA for confidential testing of genes relating to nutrition.

The Washington Post reported today that the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is launching an investigation of several private genetic testing companies in California: Pathway Genomics Corp., 23&Me Inc., and Navigenics Inc..

The investigation follows after Walgreens reneged on its decision to sell Pathway genetic testing kits in its stores. The FDA immediately responded to Walgreens' original decision by claiming that the companies violated federal law by not submitting the tests to the FDA for review.

Commercial genetic testing is already controversial for scientific, ethical and practical reasons. Stanford professor Hank Greely, JD, spoke out against the sale of over-the-counter genetic tests in response to the Walgreens incident.

Meanwhile, UC Berkeley is embracing the personalized use of genetic testing. The New York Times reported today that Berkeley is asking its incoming freshman class to volunteer to submit DNA samples for confidential testing. The tests will target genes related to the ability to metabolize alcohol, lactose and folate:

“In the decade ahead, the new genetics is going to penetrate everyday medical practice,” said Mark Schlissel, dean of biology at Berkeley. “We wanted to give students a sense of what’s coming, through genes that can provide them with useful information. I think it’s one of the best things we’ve done in years.”

The genes Berkeley is testing are related to nutrition and don't warrant counseling as tests for serious genetic diseases would, Schlissel said.

Previously: Over-the-counter genetic tests are a bad idea, Stanford expert says

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