Washington - Genetic test maker 23andMe is asking the Food and Drug Administration to approve its personalized DNA test in a move that, if successful, could boost acceptance of technology that is viewed skeptically by leading scientists who question its usefulness.
23andMe is part of a fledgling industry that allows consumers to peek into their genetic code for details about their ancestry and future health. The company's saliva-based kits have attracted scrutiny for claiming to help users detect whether they are likely to develop illnesses like breast cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's.
The biology of how DNA variations actually lead to certain diseases is still poorly understood, and many geneticists say such tests are built on flimsy evidence.
"It's the next step for us to work with the FDA and actually say, 'this is clinically relevant information and consumers should work with their physicians on what to do with it,' " said CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki, who is married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Google and Brin have invested millions in the privately held company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif.
Wojcicki says the FDA application reflects the growing scope of the company's test kit, which now measures the risks of developing more than 115 different diseases.
23andMe said Monday it submitted an initial batch of seven health-related tests to the FDA for review. The company plans to submit 100 additional tests in separate installments before the end of the year. Tests involving family history and nonmedical traits will not be reviewed, since they don't fall under FDA oversight.
Even some of the harshest critics of the genetic testing industry say 23andMe is taking the right approach.
Dr. James Evans of University of North Carolina said he considers much of the information reported by 23andMe, "relatively useless," and "in the realm of entertainment."
But as test makers begin analyzing larger portions of genetic code, there are rare cases when the findings may help doctors identify patients with a risk of treatable health problems, such as aneurysms or colon cancer.