21/05/2019
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DNA health & ancestry test launched

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Genealogy company MyHeritage has launched a new DNA test offering comprehensive health reports for conditions affected by genetics including heart disease, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The MyHeritage DNA Health + Ancestry test is a superset of the company’s DNA Ancestry-Only test, and includes its pillar features: a percentage breakdown of ethnic origins and matching to relatives through shared DNA.

23andMe was the first company to launch an at-home genetics test providing health reports as well as ancestry results, although MyHeritage says its Health + Ancestry product ‘distinguishes MyHeritage as the only major service that bridges consumers’ past, present, and future: MyHeritage’s integrated suite of products enable users to discover their family history and ethnic origins, find new relatives, and receive valuable insights to help manage choices regarding their health that may impact their future well-being’. 

Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO of MyHeritage, said: ‘Our Health + Ancestry test is the next step in the evolution of MyHeritage. After 16 years of changing lives for the better through family history research and genetic genealogy, we are excited to expand our mission and try to improve and save lives as well. Our vision is to integrate our successful family history technologies with the new health product in innovative ways that bridge heritage and heredity to deliver deeper insights for our users.

‘We are proud to be part of a movement to democratise healthcare globally and make genetic testing accessible to millions of people, and allow them to discover what makes them unique.”

What information does the DNA health test provide?

The new test provides health reports that show users their risk of developing or carrying genetic conditions. Reports include conditions where specific genes contribute to the risk, such as hereditary breast cancer, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and late-onset Parkinson’s disease; conditions associated with multiple genes, such as heart disease, and type 2 diabetes; and carrier status reports on conditions that can be passed down from a couple to their children, such as Tay-Sachs disease and cystic fibrosis. 

MyHeritage says the test covers one of the most extensive ranges of conditions offered by an at-home DNA test:

  • 11 Genetic Risk Reports, including a hereditary breast cancer (BRCA) report that tests 10 pathogenic variants
  • 3 Polygenic Risk Reports
  • 15 Carrier Status Reports

The product also includes a Polygenic Risk Score for type 2 diabetes and a third Polygenic Risk Score for breast cancer, which delivers a risk assessment for breast cancer when none of the BRCA variants that MyHeritage tests for are found.

MyHeritage says it is currently the only major home DNA testing company to offer Polygenic Risk Reports for multiple conditions, and more Polygenic Risk Reports will be added shortly. The three initial Polygenic Risk Reports support only populations with European ancestry, but the company has begun conducting research to allow the polygenic reports to cover a broader spectrum of populations in future.

Growing database

MyHeritage says the test, which has been in development for two years, is based on robust scientific research conducted by its science team led by Chief Science Officer Dr Yaniv Erlich. The genealogy company’s step into consumer genetics has seen the growth of its DNA database to 3 million people in under two-and-a-half years. A new DNA chip has been designed using Illumina’s Global Screening Array (GSA), which provides flexibility for MyHeritage to add reports for more conditions, without the need for users to retest their DNA. Several new health reports are set for release in the coming months.

MyHeritage says health reports only determine users’ genetic risk for the supported conditions but that all users are required to complete a personal and family health history questionnaire, to ensure that each person receives the reports appropriate for them. Physician and genetic counselling overnight is included in the price of the test for all US customers and MyHeritage says privacy is strictly enforced and it has pledged to never sell data to insurance companies. It also applies a strict policy to prohibit use of its DNA services by law enforcement agencies.

The company says the new health product is not intended to independently diagnose, prevent, or treat any disease or condition or tell users anything about their current state of health in the absence of medical and clinical information. The product is also not intended for making medical decisions, including prescription or dosing of medications.

It adds: ‘Users may need to obtain further services from their physician, a genetic counsellor, or other healthcare provider, in order to obtain diagnostic results regarding the conditions or diseases indicated within the MyHeritage DNA health reports. The health reports provide genetic risk information based on assessment of specific genetic variants but do not report on users’ entire genetic profile. The health reports do not detect all genetic variants related to a given disease, and the absence of a variant tested does not rule out the presence of other genetic variants that may be related to the disease. For most diseases, currently known genes are only responsible for a portion of the overall risk. Other factors such as environment and lifestyle may affect the risk of developing a given disease and, depending on the condition, may be more relevant predictors. If a user’s data indicate that the user is not at elevated genetic risk for a disease or condition, this should not be interpreted as meaning that the user is safe from developing the disease or condition. The opposite is also true; if a user’s data indicates that the user is at an elevated genetic risk for a disease or condition, it does not mean that the user will definitively develop the disease or condition. Any findings within the health reports should be confirmed and supplemented by additional medical and clinical testing as recommended by the user’s healthcare provider.’

Test details

MyHeritage DNA Health + Ancestry is available globally except in a few countries that do not allow health-related consumer genetic testing. The kit costs £179 plus shipping (US $199 + shipping). Users who have already purchased a MyHeritage DNA test for ethnicity and genealogy matching can upgrade to receive health reports for a lower fee, and an annual Health subscription is available as an optional add-on, which grants users access to new health reports as they are released. As a special launch benefit, the Health subscription is currently offered for free for the first 12 months and users can cancel it anytime. Full details at www.myheritage.com/health

What Family Tree's experts say

With at-home genetic tests for health as well as ancestry a new growth area, Family Tree asked two genealogists experienced in DNA topics for their opinions.

Karen Evans, who writes a monthly DNA column for Family Tree, said: ‘DNA testing can have a range of lifestyle applications, one being to predict which diseases you “might” suffer with or your “genetic predisposition". These health forecasts will not help you diagnose a disease you believe you’re suffering with but provide lifestyle guidance and an indication of the diseases you might suffer with in the future. I suppose forewarned is forearmed but I think I would stress about ALL the things that “could” happen to me based on the results!’

Fellow regular Family Tree contributor and psychology professor Dr Penny Walters, who also lectures on DNA and ethical dilemmas in genealogy, said: ‘DNA testing for genealogical purposes has been established for nearly 20 years, and millions of customers have enjoyed matching with people, discovering their ethnicity, and potentially collaborating with people who can help expand their tree. Most customers wouldn’t know where their information is being stored, for how long, or whether it is being sold (to third parties) or used for other purposes (such as law enforcement). The DNA testing companies receive the entirety of each customer’s genetic information, and this can also be translated, for an additional fee, into health related information. As with DNA testing generally, the information received can be on a continuum of very positive and enlightening, through to upsetting or life-changing. Instead of contributing towards a bigger tree, this individual health information could be seen as insular, even divisive. 

‘It can be a huge shock to receive health information or bad news directly from a doctor, nurse or surgeon, but what about people who receive their DNA health test results at home, and aren’t sure how to read them? MyHeritage explains that their test provides a “new dimension of genetic insight with comprehensive health reports that can empower future health and lifestyle choices”. The focus is on making informed choices. People in poverty would not be able to do this. Other companies’ websites appear more vague and optimistic, describing “health predispositions" and how genetics can “influence your chances” of developing “certain” health conditions. This involves probability, not cause and effect. One company explains that, ‘The power is in your hands to live a longer, healthier and happier life,’ and that the results will ‘help you become the best possible version of yourself’.

‘The MyHeritage results will include information about hereditary breast cancer, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, late-onset Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Tay-Sachs disease and cystic fibrosis. These should all ideally involve careful explanations to people, and maybe counselling. Receiving this information could lead some people to choose partners who have had these tests done, which could alter decisions about having a relationship or marrying someone, and especially whether or not to have a baby with them, based on these probabilities. Many customers could be very grateful for their health test results, but some might warn that this volume of information in the wrong hands could be heading back to eugenics, or heading towards a Brave New World of designer babies.’ 

• Karen Evans is Family Tree magazine’s ‘DNA agony aunt’ in her monthly column, ‘Taken a DNA test? Now what?’ DNA testing is her passion.

• Dr Penny Walters, PhD., MSc., BSc. Hons, Grad.IPM, Dip.HEd, P.Grad.Cert.Gen. is author of ‘Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy’ (ISBN 9781724038241), available now as paperback or Kindle.

QUICK LINK: New DNA test will help identify soldiers missing from World War Two

 

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