Gene Mapping Out Your Future

By: Angela Chen Email
By: Angela Chen Email

Your DNA can tell you more about yourself than you ever knew, and one company in California claims to make it possible for anybody who can pay $99 to know what their chromosomes have to say.

23andMe says it will map out your genes and tell you about your health risks and ancestry. But on Tuesday, new information from the FDA put a stop to all that.

On Tuesday, the FDA ordered the company to stop sales of its home-testing kit, saying 23andMe has failed to prove the validity of its results.

23andMe was founded in 2006, and the company is the first of its kind -- it brings gene-mapping to the masses.

Previously, it could cost thousands of dollars, and you had to either have a scientific connection or go through a doctor to get your DNA examined.

KOLO 8 News Now has been working on a story about 23andMe for the past month, and the air date of our story happened to coincide with the FDA's announcement. While you should keep the FDA warning in mind, we wanted to share what our experience with 23andMe was like.

"23andMe is named after the fact that we each have 23 chromosomes in our body -- half from our mom and half from our dad," said Emily Conley, a scientist with 23andMe.

"We look at hundreds of thousands of points in your DNA, and we can actually use that information to look at different diseases you might be at risk for or you might be resilient against. We've had people, through their genetic information, discover they were at increased risk for breast cancer which then led to early detection and to better treatment for breast cancer."

It can also connect you with family -- in some cases, long lost blood.

"We've had people find biological parents and siblings they didn't know about," said Conley. "We had a gentleman find a biological sister and a whole side of his family he didn't even know he had."

That's what Kristy Scott, a 55-year old grandmother of 17 from Dayton wants to find.

"My mother was orphaned when she was 12 years old so the only real disease information that we have on her are the actual diseases she has herself," said Scott.

Kristy, along with Tyler Ogle, a sophomore at Galena High School, agreed to take a personal journey, exploring the future using a map of their genes.

"It's going to be very interesting, and I'm very excited because now I'll know what to look for," said Ogle. "It'll make me aware because my mom was just diagnosed with diabetes, and my grandma had breast cancer. There's a lot of heart problems in my family, so it's going to open up my eyes."

Here's the process: for $99, 23andMe will send you a kit. You spit a fair amount in the test tube and send it back to their lab. Your DNA is extracted from the cells in your saliva and analyzed. About a month later -- it becomes time, as they say, to welcome you.

23andMe had a scientist reveal some of the results they found to Tyler and Kristy. For Tyler, his results highlighted certain things to watch for -- like the sun because of his increased risk for melanoma, but it also gave him good news; he was at decreased risk for male pattern baldness.

"I'm glad that I won't go bald. It's pretty cool to see all that stuff because I'm probably going to look into it," said Ogle. "I don't know about 99% of those diseases so now, for the ones I'm at risk, I'll be able to research them, see what they are."

"Some of the things he's at risk for, more prone toward, those are things he'll have to think about. maybe spending time in the sun, definitely putting protection on," said Tiffany Ogle, Tyler's mother.

As for Kristy, it was stunning to find family on her mom's mystifying side.

A 23andMe scientist revealed that Kristy had 968 people across the world in the database who are related to her.

"I think I'm the most stunned about finding someone with that much DNA that is possibly not my dad's side," said Scott.

"The benefits are I can let my kids know for their children and pass that information down. With my mom's side of the family being such a mystery, it's not going to be anymore."

While finding out your ancestry and traits are mostly harmless, the FDA warns of the potential health consequences for people whose health risk results could contain inaccurate positive results.

FDA officials say they haven't approved 23andMe's home test kit's process yet and that it will not be allowed back on the market until the FDA gives their approval.

A 23andMe spokesperson says "we recognize that we have not met the FDA's expectations regarding timeline and communication regarding our submission...and we are committed to fully engaging with them to address their concerns"

The FDA announced that it would regulate genetic testing three years ago, but they still haven't issued guidelines on how to do it, and they handle enforcement on a case by case basis, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute.

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