The Pitfalls and Promise of Home Genetic Tests
By Tara Hulen
If Walgreens had its way, crystal balls would now be for sale alongside the candy bars and cough medicine at the drugstore chain’s stores. In May, Walgreens announced that it would start selling home genetic testing kits for as little as $20, becoming the first physical store to offer the tests—although they are widely available online. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), responding soon after the announcement, notified testing companies that they should have sought premarket approval, and Walgreens canceled the launch.
Although the FDA’s actions have led to calls for regulation of these direct-to-consumer tests, at the moment anybody wanting one won’t have much trouble finding them online from companies such as 23andMe. It’s a fairly simple process: Customers order a kit, mail in some saliva, and then receive a report with as much detail as they are willing to pay for. Options include ancestry tests, health screenings on several levels, and pre-pregnancy screening—which is a large market, says UAB Genetic Counseling Program Director R. Lynn Holt, M.S., CGC. The reports cover possible risks for various diseases, pharmacogenetics (a person’s sensitivity to prescription drugs such as blood thinners), or carrier status for diseases such as cystic fibrosis or Tay-Sachs, which can be passed on to children.
The prospect offered by these tests is intriguing—the thrill of looking back into the past or catching a glimpse of the future—but Holt says geneticists and genetic counselors have several concerns.
UAB Travel Medicine Expert Joins Global Health Panel
By Troy Goodman
David Freedman is a new member of the Roster of Experts for the World Health Organization International Health Regulations.
Disease knows no boundaries, and neither does David O. Freedman, M.D. At any time, the director of UAB’s Travelers’ Health Clinic could get a phone call summoning him to Europe to help stop a global epidemic.
Freedman isn’t a superhero. He’s an expert in travel medicine—and a new member of the Roster of Experts for the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations (IHR). A comprehensive set of rules and procedures endorsed by the 193 WHO member states, the IHR is designed to limit the worldwide spread of diseases and other public-health threats while minimizing disruption to travel, trade, and economies. “The emergence of H1N1 influenza in 2009 and SARS in 2003 demonstrates how interconnected the world has become and how rapidly a new disease can spread,” Freedman says.
Gulf Species Get a Second Chance at UABBy Glenny Brock
UAB biologists reflect on the ecological effects of the Gulf oil spill and its impact on their research in this video.
So far it seems that oil-slicked pelicans have been the sad mascots of the Gulf oil spill. Ever since the fatal explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, birds with greasy, tar-black feathers have been the decisive images of wildlife in peril. But pelicans aren’t the only Gulf animals in need of rescue from the vast slick.
UAB biologists are at the forefront of efforts to protect two species: diamondback terrapin turtles native to Dauphin Island, Alabama, and Gulf-native sea urchins in Florida’s upper peninsula. Although their work with these animals began as part of other research, the scientists have become noteworthy participants in the struggle to safeguard life in the Gulf.
Far from the coast, about 120 adult diamondback terrapins are now in residence on the UAB campus, all hatched from eggs that biology professor Thane Wibbels, Ph.D., and his colleagues collected from Cedar Point Marsh on Dauphin Island. The turtles are part of a captive-rearing program that began in 2006 with the goal of keeping the diamondback terrapin off the endangered species list.
“The diamondback terrapin has an incredibly rich history in Alabama,” Wibbels says. “The state used to have thousands of terrapins. At one point, they were shipping up to 12,000 a year out of Alabama.”