Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 25, 2015

Personal Genomic Tests Set to Alter Healthcare

Even just 10 years ago, the idea of a personal genome test was largely the province of science fiction. Yet today, as noted in a recent report from Frost & Sullivan, the market for direct to consumer genomics is actually thriving. What's driving this market, and what's making it up, are two key points the study examined, and the conclusions it reaches may prove every bit as shocking as the numbers involved.

The Frost & Sullivan study, titled “Future of Personalized Genomics”, took a look at the market for genetic testing on the consumer level, and discovered that e-commerce platforms are taking an unexpected lead in terms of bringing these tests to the consumer level. It's still something of an emerging branch of medicine, but several companies have gotten involved in the field and are offering up a wide variety of tests for users.

But there's an issue associated with these tests, however, one that's brought the entire market under a note of scrutiny: the tests being offered are somewhat doubtful in terms of overall accuracy. The tests in question use what's known as “single nucleotide polymorphism-based sequencing”, a measure of testing that isn't nearly as accurate as other complex measures like whole exome sequencing or whole genome sequencing. That's leading to some, like Madhumitha Rangesa—a research analyst with Technical Insights—to suggest that there needs to be much more in the way of standardization policies as well as basic protocols to help ensure better, more trustworthy results. Indeed, there are also issues accompanying the collection and storage of such information so as to ensure that it's held both safely and ethically; this is information that could do a lot of damage if it were to get out.

Rangesa was also heard to call for the hiring of genetic counselors at such operations, and elaborated with a set of remarks in terms of what was already going on, saying “To further enhance genetic tests, several national initiatives that boost funding opportunities have been deployed. Organizations like the National Institute of Health are heavily sponsoring academics and industrial research to encourage innovation in this rapidly-evolving landscape.”

The fact that this is still a comparatively young market—despite the sheer rapidity of its adoption—means that there will likely be plenty of issues to consider in terms of its operation. Genomic testing can be very dangerous information to have out there, as noted previously; consider what an insurance company could do with that kind of information, refusing life insurance to those with a genetic predisposition to cancer or the like. Consider what an employer could do, refusing to hire someone with genetic predisposition to certain illnesses that would shoot health insurance rates through the roof. Perhaps this might even extend into dating; would certain couples never form if it was discovered said couples couldn't have children, or would produce offspring with certain diseases? There are a lot of possibilities here, particularly as the technology advances; so keeping abreast of just what's going on is well worth doing.

Only time will tell what the final outcome of this new healthcare move is, but this is a very big issue, and one that's likely to fundamentally shake up markets for some time to come.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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