Unlocking DNA for all

Genetics was once the purview of academics and researchers. Then came 23andMe and its at-home testing kits, which are increasingly disrupting the role DNA plays in everyday health care. In March, the FDA approved 23andMe’s home test for cancer risk. For $199, customers can mail a saliva sample to the company and six to eight weeks later learn whether they have certain changes in their genetic sequence that are linked to increased risks for breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. (The company got a similar FDA green light last year for testing related to risk for Parkinson’s, late-onset Alzheimer’s and other conditions.) Results are far from definitive; the test looks at only three of the more than 1,000 known variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that could signal higher risk. And doctors are still figuring out how to advise patients who have taken their DNA into their own hands. But there’s no denying that 23andMe, which now claims more than 5 million users, is giving consumers an unprecedented window into their own genetic health. —Mandy Oaklander

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