Skip to Content

Will At-Home Genetic Tests For Alzheimer's And Parkinson's Cause Unnecessary Worry?

A 23AndMe at-home genetic test.
Brendan Lim/Flickr Creative Commons

The FDA has approved a new at-home genetics test that would tell users how at risk they may be for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. 

The test, offered by the company 23AndMe, tests saliva samples for signs of risk for 10 different conditions. 

Skipping a trip to a doctor's office may sound convenient, but medical ethicist Arthur Caplan says that kind of information can be difficult to interpret for people who aren't medical professionals.

"I've been around genetic testing a long time, and I see a lot of people get freaked out over something they shouldn't, or not understanding something because it's probabilistic and they don't understand the implications for their relatives," Caplan explained. 

Caplan worries that consumers may get an exaggerated sense of risk from these tests, and make serious medical or reproductive decisions as a result. In fact, the FDA rejected a previous test from 23AndMe that included breast cancer risk assessment, out of concerns that it would drive consumers to seek unnecessary surgery.

"I worry that without counseling, without being able to be directed to a knowledgeable doctor or genetic counselor or someone who knows how to interpret these tests, consumers by themselves aren't going to be able to process the information," he said.

Click on the audio player above to hear the entire interview with Art Caplan. 


WGBH News coverage is a resource provided by member-supported public radio. We can’t do it without you.