Sunday, September 30, 2007

Consumer Genetics

New Era of Consumer Genetics Raises Hope and Concerns - New York Times

Some people can eat slabs of steak and butter without gaining weight or raising their cholesterol levels. Others assiduously shun fats and still have a high risk of heart disease. The different response to diet is determined in part by one's genes.

Now scientists are beginning to apply genetics to diet, a new field known as nutritional genomics, or nutrigenomics. In the near term, the study is expected to reveal how particular diet ingredients affect health. The ultimate goal will be to tailor one's diet to genetic makeup. . . .

Pharmaceutical companies are working on a related field known as pharmacogenomics, with the goal of developing so-called personalized medicine. It is known that people with certain genetic variations will not receive benefit from certain painkillers or will suffer serious side effects from a dose of a cancer drug that helps other . . .

Nutrigenomics would expand the idea of personalized care into the consumer world. . .

Already there are some examples. People with phenylketonuria, a rare inherited disease that leads to mental retardation, can avert problems with a special diet low in proteins. People with a particular gene variant cannot digest milk.

The advent of consumer genetics is also raising concerns. Already some small companies are offering vitamins or dietary advice customized to people based on genetic tests. Customers swab the inside of their cheeks with cotton to obtain their DNA.

But many experts say not enough is known yet to support the claims of these companies. ''I'm really skeptical that this is going to lead to health benefits at the stage of knowledge we're in,'' said Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who was the chairman of the dietary guidelines committee of the American Heart Association.

The companies defend their tests. ''This is not voodoo; this is science,'' said John R. DePhillipo, chief executive of GeneLink, of Margate, N.J., which is developing customized vitamins and skin products based on gene tests. NuGenix, a company owned by Mr. DePhillipo's children, recently began selling customized vitamins at $300 for the test and a one-month supply.

take care - they just want your money


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