Saliva Tests Could Help Predict Chronic Disease

Saliva Sample

Want to know your risk for developing a wide range of chronic diseases? It could be as simple as submitting a saliva sample.

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration granted approval to genetic testing company 23andMe to offer these direct-to-consumer tests for 10 different conditions including Alzheimer’s and celiac disease. Consumers can mail a sample of their saliva and then receive data on their risk for developing any of the 10 conditions. The tests will cost $199.

Along with their disease risk analysis, customers will receive educational information and also receive clarification that the company’s diagnosis isn’t a sure-fire indicator that they will receive a particular disease.

“This is an important moment for people who want to know their genetic health risks and be more proactive about their health,” Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe CEO and cofounder, said in a statement. She also noted that it’s a “significant step forward” for her company.

However, the FDA was also quick to note that there is always a risk of false positives or false negatives, and that the tests should not be used to inform treatment decisions. Others also raised eyebrows that consumers will receive significant information about their health without counseling from a medical professional.

Pieces of vital information may also not make it to a consumer. Dr. Mary Ganguli, a professor of geriatric psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, noted the risk of developing Alzheimer’s fades with age and that the association is weaker in African-Americans than whites.

“How is someone who orders the test at home and gets this result going to know all this?” Ganguli asked. “Do most of their doctors know?”