deCode Genetics in Iceland is joining a handful of other companies breaking into the market of genetic information databases that are available to members of the public.
A new start-up called 23andMe, which is backed by Google, is making genetic information available to those who want to know about their genetic predisposition to certain illnesses and conditions.
Although companies have been working on developing genetic databases for some time now, 23andMe and deCode are the first to begin offering their services to the general public. All of the companies are seeking to provide the same services to people, however, and to answer questions like: What are my chances of developing breast cancer? Am I susceptible to diabetes?
According to the 23andMe co-founders, Linda Avey and Anne Wojcikcki, genetic information should be accessible and delivered to the public in a responsible fashion.
For $999, 23andMe customers can use tools developed by Illumina, a San Diego-based company, to submit their genetic information. The information is then uploaded onto the 23andMe online database.
The database contains all the links that scientists have identified between certain genetic markers to specific diseases, traits or characteristics. An ‘odds calculator’ is able to combine this information with the customer’s genetic information, age, and ethnic group in order to give odds about the health problems they might encounter in the future.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea. Hank Greely is a professor of law at Stanford University. In addition to concerns about theft of genetic information from the database, he is also concerned about potential health risks.
“A lot of the genetic results are early, weak and preliminary,” Greely said. “One worries that people will think the information is more powerful than it actually is and change their lives based on it.”
Wojcicki and Avey say they have taken these factors into consideration and have carefully developed a system of standards for screening and presenting information to customers.
In the future, they hope to use the information provided by customers to contribute to research. They are also considering a social networking tool in the future which will allow people to connect with family members and genetically similar individuals.