Ministry health

Department of Health warns of risks of consumer genetic testing to guide expectations

SINGAPORE — As consumer genetic testing takes off in Singapore, the Ministry of Health (MOH) is stepping up efforts to warn people of the risks.

These include the possibility that test results may not be backed by strong scientific evidence, or that testing companies may sell genetic data to third-party organizations, he said.

To raise awareness, the ministry has been running continuous social media ads urging caution since December last year. This follows the publication of a 13-page guidance document for test companies last May and a separate notice for consumers last August.

The aim is to guide consumer expectations and help the public make safer decisions, given that such tests have been more widely advertised in recent years, a Department of Health spokesperson told the Straits Times.

Consumer genetic testing claims to offer personalized information about an individual’s genetic makeup, including ancestry, skin type, and fitness profile.

These services are offered by overseas companies such as 23andMe and Circle DNA, as well as companies with offices in Singapore such as Imagene Labs, e-beauty and easyDNA.

Customers typically receive a kit with instructions on how to collect a saliva sample, which is then mailed back to the company for processing.

The Department of Health spokesperson said it does not track the number of consumer genetic testing providers in Singapore and has not received any complaints to date.

While genetic tests used in healthcare settings are assessed and registered by the Health Sciences Authority, those sold directly to consumers are unregulated, she added.

Its HealthWatch website warns people to beware of claims that sound too good to be true and to read the fine print before taking a test: “Be careful in interpreting genetic test results, which are not always reliable. . Talk to your doctor before making health decisions.”

Dr. David Klinzing, Managing Director of Imagene Labs, said its test reports are written in consultation with subject matter experts, in a way that makes them easily understandable and actionable by the average person. It offers a variety of tests, ranging from those focused on fitness to nutrition and healthy aging.

“If a client requires further guidance on the interpretation of results, we provide such service upon request by referring them to qualified professionals who can help achieve a client’s specific goals and objectives,” he said. -he adds.

A spokesperson for e-beauty, which offers tests to determine skin type and general health, said customers get a free consultation to help them interpret their test results. Although they may consider making minor lifestyle changes, such as exercising more, they should consult a doctor regarding disease risks.

“After all, a genetic test is only a reference, not definitive, and in no way serves as a clinical or diagnostic tool,” she said.

Another spokesperson for easyDNA, which offers ancestry tests as well as those to determine family relationships, added: “We always emphasize to customers that genetics is only one part of health, that the environment and that other factors also have major influences.”