Consumer genetic tests fall short on claims, accuracy

When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) went undercover and purchased genetic test results from four companies, the results were all over the map. The results were “misleading and of little or no practical use,” says the GOA.

The GAO used fictitious names when it ordered 10 test results from four direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies charging between $299 to $999 per test. One donor that supplied the requested DNA sample to four companies was told he had below-average, average, and above-average risk for prostate cancer and hypertension from the respective companies.

 Another testing company told a donor that she had a decreased risk for developing an irregular heartbeat when, in fact, she’d had a pacemaker implanted over a dozen years ago to treat the condition.

“None of the companies could provide GAO’s fictitious African American and Asian donors with complete test results, but did not explicitly disclose this limitation prior to purchase,” according to the GAO. “Further, follow-up consultations offered by three of the companies failed to provide the expert advice that the companies promised.”

The GAO also noted the widespread use of deceptive marketing by the companies, including claims that someone purchasing the genetic test could use their DNA to create personalized cures. Two of the companies claimed that their supplements, also for sale, could “repair damaged DNA” or cure disease, but genetics experts said there was no scientific basis for the claims.

For the full report: Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Tests: Misleading Test Results Are Further Complicated by Deceptive Marketing and Other Questionable Practices. GAO-10-847T, July 22

Kathlyn Stone

Kathlyn Stone is a Twin Cities, Minnesota-based writer who has covered general news, and business, international trade, and health care news and policies for public and professional audiences.