April 24, 2018

23andMe already has your DNA. Now it wants to know about your medical conditions and treatments.

Daily Briefing

    The genetic testing company 23andMe on Thursday unveiled a new feature that asks users to share whether they have certain common medical conditions and to rate treatments for those conditions.

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    About the feature

    The new online tool allows 23andMe users to share and rate their treatment plans for 18 common medical conditions, including allergies, asthma, depression, insomnia, and Type 2 diabetes.

    The tool also will display how many others in the 23andMe community have the conditions and how they've rated various treatments' effectiveness. In addition, users will be able to access research from 23andMe, though the company states at the top of the tool that the data are not based on individuals' genetics and might "not be representative of the general population" of individual users.

    23andMe said the new tool does not recommend which treatments users should seek, but instead is giving people information about the treatments. A disclaimer at the bottom of the page suggests that users should consult with health care professionals if they are in need of treatment.

    According to 23andMe, 4,500 users have completed 30,000 treatment reviews since the company began testing the feature over the past few weeks.

    Future plans

    23andMe said it currently does not have any plans on how it will use the data it collects through the new feature, CNBC reports. However, Jessie Inchauspe, a product manager who led work on the new feature, said the company eventually could use the data for research purposes.

    "I would say in general as a company, we're really interested in helping customers with all aspects of their health," Inchauspe said. She added, "We don't have any immediate plans with the data, but you could imagine it leading to more detailed research in the future. Our mission as a company is all about giving people access to data and allowing them to use it."

    Some have concerns

    Some observers have expressed concerns that the new data 23andMe has made available to its users could be misleading.

    Kayte Spector-Bagdady, a bioethicist at the University of Michigan and a former associate director of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, said, "Normally I think 23andMe does a really nice job visually representing genetic risks, but this model brings up some real interpretation concerns." For instance, she said, "If I say I have depression and all I ever tried was Zoloft and I had moderate improvement, it doesn't mean Zoloft was better for me than exercise or Wellbutrin." However, she said some users could interpret the data as such. "It's hard for any individual consumer to understand what this information means for them," she said (LaVito, CNBC, 4/19; Molteni, Wired, 4/20).

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