AAP News: Direct-to-consumer genetic tests are less useful than family history

January 1, 2010

Parents with questions about direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests may be showing up in many pediatricians' offices soon, according to a prominent ethicist.

Parents with questions about direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests may be showing up in many pediatricians' offices soon, said prominent ethicist and pediatrics professor Jeffrey Botkin, MD, MPH, FAAP, in a session at the AAP conference. He advised that pediatricians tell parents that "a high level of skepticism about the clinical validity and clinical utility of the tests is warranted."

These DTC genetic tests are readily available in many states, and public awareness of them is growing, said Botkin, who is a former chair of the AAP bioethics committee and was recently named chair of a National Institutes of Health working group on human embryonic stem cell eligibility review.

"Predictive power of genetic information is low for most complex, multifactorial conditions," said Botkin.

Indeed, a high-quality family history may provide better information for many conditions, he said, and the literature tends to show that "all of us can learn from our genetic counseling colleagues and others out there about how to take and interpret a more thorough family history than we commonly do now."