The Insight kit from Pathway Genomics allows purchasers to mail in  a saliva sample and receive the results of a genetic test.

The Insight personal genetic testing kit should be in the stores Friday, making Walgreens the first major American chain store to sell at-home health risk assessment kits. In August, CVS will get the kits.

But would you really want to know if you have a good chance at coming down with a dreaded illness? Do-it-yourself kits like these could one day be as common as early pregnancy tests and let consumers get information about their future health prospects before they go to the doctor, according to marketers.

Yet counselors and bio-ethicists worry that shoppers will not understand or that they’ll misuse the test results. Also, the information they glean may be frightening or misinterpreted without a health expert’s guidance.

The Food and Drug Administration is looking into medical claims made by Insight’s manufacturer, Pathway Genomics, according to the Chicago Tribune. But the California-based company says its test meets federal regulations and that it’s not subject to FDA approval.

“The tests conducted are not an in-vitro medical device and are not intended for use in diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or cure of disease,” Pathway’s vice president of product management, Ed MacBean, told The Tribune. “It does provide information that allows a person to learn about their health to make healthier lifestyle choices. If the FDA contacts us, we will discuss it and address any concerns they might have.”

The Insight kit will cost $20 to $30 and will be sold at approximately 6,000 of the retail chain’s 7,500 stores. A customer who buys one receives a vial and mailing envelope. After mailing in a sample of saliva in the vial, buyers get their results online. The report costs anywhere from $79 to $179, depending upon the type of test. Among the diseases that the kit screens for are diabetes, prostate cancer and cystic fibrosis.

Already widely available in drug stores are at-home DNA paternity and gender prediction kits. But in the past, genetic testing was done in conjunction with a visit to the doctor and a consultation with a health professional.

The value of such kits is being questioned by some scientists. For the majority of diseases, no one really knows why some people fall victim and others don’t, according to Peter Kraft, deputy director of the Program in Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.

“The company states, everyone has the right to know the secrets hidden within their DNA,” he told the Tribune. “Fair enough, but that is a lot of work. I don’t think this is the way to go.”


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