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Is It Useful?

In an editorial, the New York Times warns that even though 23andMe has health risk tests that have gotten US Food and Drug Administration clearance, it does not mean the tests will be useful.

Last month, 23andMe announced it had gotten clearance for a genetic test for a syndrome associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and, last March, it received clearance for its test of three BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Previously, the firm also received clearance for its Bloom syndrome test.

The Times notes, though, that 23andMe's tests are often simpler than clinical genetic tests, and such as in the case of its BRCA test, only examines small sections of those genes. That means, it adds, that the test doesn't capture all the variants in those genes that could contribute to disease risk. The Times adds that 23andMe informs users of the tests' limitations, but it says that the "tests are still more parlor trick than medicine."

At his Genomics, Medicine, and Pseudoscience blog, Johns Hopkins University's Steven Salzberg writes that the Times in that last bit is incorrect, adding that 23andMe's assay is accurate and validated and that the company warns users about its limitations. "It's legitimate to argue that you won't learn anything useful from the 23andMe tests, but you will learn something about genetics," he adds.