At-home Bipolar Gene Testing?

Dr. John Kelsoe, a psychiatric geneticist and owner of Psynomics - the first company to offer diagnostic testing for mental illness has kick started the boom in research connecting genetic variations to a host of health conditions.

Dr. John Kelsoe, a psychiatric geneticist at the University of California, San Diego, did something potentially controversial for the world of medical research when he began selling bipolar genetic tests to the public via the Internet for $399.

Kelsoe’s company, La Jolla, CA-based Psynomics, is the first company to offer diagnostic testing for mental illness, kick starting a band of startup companies looking to exploit the boom in research connecting genetic variations to a host of health conditions. More than 1,000 at-home gene tests have become available on the market over the past few years. The explosion in demand worries public health officials, medical ethicists and doctors as the tests have received almost no government oversight.

While Kelsoe acknowledges that bipolar disorder probably results from a combination of genetic factors and that the presence of these gene variations does not mean that someone will develop the disease, he admits that his findings about the genetic basis of the illness are far from complete. At the same time, Kelsoe says his test is a vital starting point toward moving away from the difficult task of diagnosing bipolar disorder based only on a patient’s behavior.

Dr. Deb” covers the topic on her blog page, which explores “current issues and articles that impact the human psyche.” In it, she mentions Psynomics. And provides the following information:

Once ordered, a "spit kit" arrives at one's home or doctor's office. From there, the procedure is simple. Spit, seal and send. Psynomics will analyze the DNA and forward test results and a report. There are some limitations, specifically that the genetic test is valid only if you experience the symptoms of bipolar disorder and are Caucasian with northern European ancestry.

Psynomics offers two genetic tests to diagnose bipolar disorder on its website, along with descriptions, references and instructions for individuals and doctors. The first is Psynome™ — tests for two mutations of the GRK3 gene that are associated with bipolar disorder. The other, aptly named Psynome2™, tests for gene mutations in the Promoter L allele gene that predicts patient response to serotonin-based drugs, the most commonly prescribed drug therapies in psychiatry today. These tests are useful to your doctor in making a timely and accurate diagnosis of your condition and prescribing the right medication. The tests can be ordered individually or combined.

Some health experts worry that such genetic tests are built on very little data, while others feel it is an exciting step in healthcare technology. Where do you stand?