National

Gene test kits help determine disease risk

by Satoshi Toi

Kyodo

Discovering whether you are at risk of developing specific diseases once required going to a hospital for various kinds of time-consuming examinations. Now it can be done with a simple test conducted at home or at a drugstore.

A 43-year-old female company employee from Tokyo bought a genetic test kit in April to discover whether she is at risk for diabetes.

Her father had suffered from the disease and took insulin, and she had long worried about developing diabetes, too. Every time she underwent a health exam, she first checked her blood glucose levels.

The woman decided to take the genetic test at age 43 as that was when her father had become a diabetic.

The test was positive.

“It does not mean that I will be diabetic for sure, but it feels like I can’t get away from it,” she said. “Now I am preparing myself (for the disease) and eating healthy food and exercising.”

A genetic test kit created by Genesis Healthcare Co. examines gene sequences and determines the likelihood of the user developing a specific disease based on past data. Anyone 18 or older can take the test.

At home, the person takes mucous membrane samples and saliva from the mouth with cotton swabs included in the kit and sends them back to the Tokyo-based company.

Similar kits are available to test for other diseases and conditions, such as obesity or osteoporosis. Each test costs ¥5,800.

The results take several weeks at least and when results are positive the company includes advice on measures to prevent the disease.

A more detailed test is also available for ¥29,800. It checks for the risk of 37 kinds of diseases, including sudden cardiac arrest and rheumatoid arthritis as well as diabetes, in one go. The test screens 68 kinds of genes.

Genesis Healthcare said it deals carefully with the information, encrypting identification numbers in gene samples so users can’t be identified.

Because users may suffer distress over the results, the company confirms in a letter of consent in advance whether they really wish to go ahead with the test.

A positive result doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will develop the disease in question, an official at Genesis Healthcare said.

“Whether a person develops a disease depends not only on gene sequences but also their lifestyle and other environmental factors,” the official said. “A user should not use the kit as a diagnosis of a disease, but to learn about their constitution and refer to the result to stay healthy.”

Healthy Life Compass Corp. in Tokyo, an affiliate of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp., offers a health checkup service at drugstores for about ¥3,000.

After users take blood samples by themselves at a drugstore, a clinical testing firm that belongs to the Mitsubishi Chemical group examines 13 items, such as their liver and kidney functions as well as lipids.

Users receive the results at the store after about 10 days. Pharmacists there then give advice on health management. Users can also seek counseling on a website.

“We hope the service will be useful for self-employed workers and housewives who cannot take health checkups on a regular basis,” a Healthy Life Compass official said.

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