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23andMe CEO says consumer genetics will be as normal as at-home pregnancy tests


23andMe CEO and cofounder Anne Wojcicki says consumers don’t need experts to interpret results from genetic risk tests, and compared the information her company offers to at-home pregnancy tests. She says research by 23andMe and others has shown that the average consumer can understand the results from genetic health profiles—and how those results may, or may not, be indicative of future health risks.

The background: Last month, the FDA gave 23andMe the green light to tell customers whether they have three specific genetic variants of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are linked to a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The results will be available through 23andMe’s $199 health and ancestry service.

The backlash: Some critics say it’s irresponsible to provide consumers with this information directly and that people should instead seek out a test ordered by a medical professional who can interpret the results.

23andMe replies: In an editorial published today by Stat, Wojcicki says people should have “more direct access to personalized information so they can take charge of their health” and compares her company’s BRCA test to at-home pregnancy tests, which doctors were initially wary about.

What the future holds: Last year, 23andMe got permission from the FDA to directly tell consumers their risk of developing 10 different diseases, including late-onset Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s, as indicated by their DNA. On top of its new BRCA test, a 23andMe spokesperson told MIT Technology Review, the company plans to launch additional genetic health risk reports for more diseases in the future.