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Home testing kits for diseases and ailments are nothing new – even genetic testing is becoming more commercialized. Biotech companies such as 23andMe and Exogen Biotechnology offer consumers a chance to take an in-depth look at their DNA makeup and ancestry. The goal of such companies is to ultimately prevent health conditions that some people are simply more genetically prone to develop.
New progress in genetic and disease prevention tests has enabled the test kits to be smaller, easier and more suitable for consumers, making the latest healthcare technology accessible to everyone. However, questions of their legitimacy and practicality come up from health professionals. A recent intervention by the FDA halted 23andMe’s previous business model in which the company offered medical advice based solely on the take home tests. While biotech startups do offer some accountability to their customers with this technology, does it make sense to give the average person, with little medical background, this information?
On the practical side, new developments in medical testing such as blood sugar monitor kits for diabetics will drive down the size and costs for patients. Clemson University students have created a cost-effective, blood sugar testing kit through by modifying an inkjet printer to shoot enzymes instead of ink. The test strips can then be generated for just 1 cent each as compared to other commercial strips that costs as much as $1 each. The majority of the diabetics need to use five or more a day. This new cheap test could dramatically affect the treatment of diabetes in underdeveloped countries in East Africa, where the disease is fairly prevalent.
Another win for lower home testing costs is a new colon cancer screening test that is just $12 to $20, extremely cheap in comparison to the typical $1,000 fee for a colonoscopy. The new tests are convenient, private and do not require people to change their diet or stop certain medications as older tests did.
On a broader scale, scientists have discovered a blood test to predict Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms begin to crystallize. Howard Federoff at Georgetown University in Washington DC and his colleagues studied 525 people aged 70 and over for five years. They found a way to predict which group will develop dementia through chemical changes detected in the brain.
An even more general test by Dr. Johannes Kettunen of the Institute for Molecular Medicine in Finland developed a mortality test through the levels of four biomarkers in the body. Researchers claim that in the future a test could flag high-risk individuals who show no symptoms of any disease as worthy of increased medical attention, simply on the ratios of these biomarkers that act as triggers in the body.
The key question is: with no concrete cure for Alzheimer’s disease or death itself, why would anyone take these tests?
The feeling of responsibility that such testing provides consumers may be a good enough reason to purchase an at home test. Mark Mapstone at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York says “In my experience, the majority of people are very interested to know whether they will get Alzheimer’s. They believe that knowledge is power – particularly when it comes to your own health.” One can make the same argument about wearable tech’s accuracy and direct impact on the individual’s health. Anything that makes a person take action to improve their own wellbeing has our support.
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