Dr. Eric Topol: Direct-to-consumer DNA tests 'could lead to a lesser opinion of genomics'

Helix, a direct-to-consumer genomics company, launched an online marketplace for third-party products based on its DNA tests July 24 — leading many in the healthcare industry to respond with skepticism, according to The Atlantic.

DNA sequencing has become less expensive in recent years, resulting in a growth of direct-to-consumer "lifestyle DNA tests." However, these tests tend to shy away from providing medical information to avoid falling under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and, instead, aim to provide information relating to an individual's nutrition or fitness, The Atlantic notes.

Helix's 14-person team reviews the science and validation behind each of the third-party products the company sells on its online marketplace. The current products in Helix's third-party marketplace include an ancestry test, personalized diet coaching and a customized scarf based on an individual's DNA. One product that has faced particular criticism offers to identify wines tailored to users' DNA profiles.

Helix uses whole-exome sequencing for products sold through its marketplace, including the wine preferences service produced by a company called Vinome. However, skeptics note DNA analysis can only note what a person can taste — not what they enjoy. Vinome supplements this drawback by asking a user to fill out an additional questionnaire about their taste preferences.

Eric Topol, MD, a genomicist at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., told The Atlantic he thinks the questionable state of direct-to-consumer DNA testing doesn't demonstrate the value of DNA sequencing, which may lead to backlash against the technology's uses.

"It could lead to a lesser opinion of genomics," he said. "I'm afraid of that as well."

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