Skip to Content

Genetic Tests Already Becoming Obsolete

June 11, 2008

Genetic testing may be even worse than flat screens when it comes to the speed at which they become out of date. Last fall, I took a genetic test for a recently identified genetic variation linked to a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes. With a family history of the disease and other risk factors, I was curious about my own genetic status. Fortunately, I didn’t have that high-risk allele–but given my family history, I likely have other disease-linked variants.

At the Beyond Genome conference in San Francisco yesterday, I discovered that the test I took a year ago now screens for four genetic variants that boost risk for the disease. Those new additions are part of a flood of genome-wide association screens that have been reported over the past year. The rate may slow down as variants with the biggest impact on common diseases are identified.

The test I took was focused on a single disease, type 2 diabetes. Genome-wide screens, such as those offered by Navigenics, DeCode, and 23andMe, offer updates–either included in the initial fee or for an annual subscription–to their customers as additional information becomes available.

The issue led to an interesting panel discussion about who is responsible for tracking patients who do show an increased risk for disease. The problem is so new that there is no consensus yet. But Steve Murphy, founder of the personalized-medicine practice Helix Health, argued that it is the physician’s job, just as it is his or her responsibility to make sure that patients with high cholesterol and other risk factors are properly monitored.

Here’s an unrelated but fascinating fact that you may have heard before: a full 10 percent of fathers may not be the biological parent of their children, according to Charles Lee, director of cytogenetics at the Harvard Cancer Center. Lee’s group didn’t set out to examine these rates specifically–researchers do paternity testing as part of their standard genetic-testing process. In the process, they discovered that one in ten men are not the biological fathers of their children.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.