The consumer genetic testing platform AncestryDNA will now offer customers genetic testing to understand their risks for a number of health conditions.

From Family History to Healthcare
Previously, Ancestry has exclusively focused on helping people trace their family history and understand inheritable traits. However, possibly in a bid to keep up with many of their competitors, they have launched a new service known as AncestryHealth.

Ancestry Health currently offers a one-time genetic test for nine hereditary conditions, including heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer and blood disorders. It costs $149 for new customers and $49 for existing AncestryDNA customers. The tests work by identifying customer’s gene variants for different disease linked genes and determining their risk level for each condition based on population and biological research. However, risk levels of genetic variants may change in light of new research, which would not be communicated effectively in this one-off testing model.
In the future the company will launch a subscription-based service, known as AncestryHealth Plus. In contrast to the genotyping used in the standard version, AncestryHealth Plus will employ more advanced next generation sequencing techniques. Customers will also receive quarterly updates for a wider range of health conditions, to enable that the information they are given reflects recent research advances.

Understanding Test Results
Both options come with comprehensive reports and resources to help customers interpret their genetic results risk level. However, medical professionals have previously expressed concerns that this is not enough to ensure customers fully understand the implications of their results. Misinterpretation of genetic testing results are very common, for example customers may assume that if they have a high-risk genetic variant for a disease, they are guaranteed to get it in their lifetime, regardless of their lifestyle. This is not the case, and it is therefore recommended that customers talk through their genetic testing results with a qualified genetic counsellor.

As the AncestryHealth tests have not yet been approved by the FDA, the tests will be delivered through a network of physicians. This will allow for easier access to genetic counsellors and the interpretation of results by qualified medical practitioners. Research has shown that people who have a genetic counsellor explain to them that they have a higher genetic risk for a certain disease take proactive steps towards healthier lifestyles to reduce their risk. If a person is identified for being high-risk for a particular disease, then they can either be closely monitored by their doctor to ensure an early diagnosis or undertake preventative surgery (such as a mastectomy in case of breast cancer). The main benefit of consumer genetic testing is therefore allowing people to have more information about their health to make more informed decisions.

Privacy Concerns Worry Customers
However, there are concerns that companies such as Ancestry may be offering health testing to combat the declining numbers in people buying genetic tests. This is mainly due to concerns that customers’ privacy is being compromised by companies profiting from selling their genetic data onto pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies. Ancestry maintain that customers data belongs to them and that they will not pass on their health data without their explicit consent.

Ancestry entering into the health market will likely have major implications for the consumer genetic testing industry.