Over the Counter Genetics Test for Alzheimer's Disease

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

This topic has made for an active news cycle over the past week.

First, Walgreens pharmacies announced their intention to sell an over the counter gene test. The product would enable consumers to swab their cheek and send a DNA sample, via mail, to a lab where the sample would be analyzed. The lab would then report back to the consumer on whether or not the sample indicated an increased genetic predisposition to some 70 diseases and medical conditions, including Alzheimer's disease.

This widely covered story was followed by the news that the FDA had formally notified Pathway Genomics, the manufacturer of the test kit, that the FDA required more information about the product. Finally, the news cycle peaked with Walgreens' announcement that they would not stock the product until the FDA situation was clarified.

The interesting question at the heart of this matter pertains to the debate over the value of providing complex genetic information to the lay public.

Those against enabling people to learn about their genetics take the view that the public must be shielded from information that they might use to hurt themselves in some way. I disagree with those people. Frankly, they remind me of an earlier time when similar thinking suggested that religious scripture should not be translated into common languages for public consumption.

I concede that there is a risk of misinterpretation where some might learn they have increased genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease and falsely conclude they they will definitely get the disease. However, we are talking about a self-selecting population that already has some concerns about their health and has demonstrated a willingness to invest their time, money, and effort into learning more. It is clear that these people want to know.

No one is suggesting we casually thrust genetic information upon anyone who would rather not have it. Those who share my view simply suggest that there is increasing demand among a well-educated public to learn about and manage their own health in a proactive manner. It makes good sense to support them in that noble initiative.

A better understanding and more awareness of Alzheimer's related issues can impact personal health decisions and generate significant impact across a population of aging individuals. Please use the share button below to spread this educational message as widely as possible.

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