Popular genetics: Body Shop to stock DNA test

By Melissa Trudinger
Friday, 08 March, 2002

A British company offering personalised DNA tests for diet and lifestyle genes may begin marketing the product in Australia by the end of the year, but Australian geneticists were sceptical about its efficacy.

Sciona's product, 'You and Your Genes', combines testing for variations of nine different genes involved in detoxification, oxidative stress, vitamin utilisation and alcohol metabolism with a detailed questionnaire about diet and lifestyle.

A personalised report outlining specific recommendations based on the individual's genetic profile as well as general recommendations is then generated.

The source of the DNA used to test the individual is from a buccal swab, taken from the inside of the cheek. Test kits are being sold for AUD$300 in the UK over the Internet and through The Body Shop, a leading British chain selling natural cosmetics.

"The genes tested are the main metabolic genes such as NAT, GSTP1, MTHFR, ALDH2, MnSOD," said Sciona CEO Dr Chris Martin. "We are planning to add another 35 genes to this particular panel."

Dr Martin explained that the scientific basis for the testing service was based on published scientific literature in disciplines including nutrigenomics, molecular biology, epidemiology (genomic and nutritional) and genomics.

"The relationship between a gene such as MTHFR and, for example, folic acid metabolism is relatively well established both through epidemiological and biomarker assays," Martin said. "There is a considerable body of data supporting these links and the effects of ingested folic acid on long-term health.

"The genes included in the current product have been the subject of up to 20 years' research. They are known to affect fundamental metabolic processes which are affected by the availability of certain nutritional factors."

He claimed that the service provided widely accepted good dietary advice, personalised and prioritised for the individual.

Prof Paul Hertzog, Director of the Centre for Functional Genomics and Human Disease at the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development, said that the general theory was good, but the absence of solid data made it hard to ascertain whether the product was bona fide.

"It's really, really complicated how genes interact," he said - adding that the problem occupied a considerable amount of drug companies' time and money.

Dr Michael Fenech, researcher at CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition in Adelaide, agreed. "There is some rationale but it is early days yet."

He explained that polymorphisms might decrease the risk of one condition but be associated with increased risk of another.

Sciona is looking seriously at the Australian market for its 'You and Your Genes' product. Dr Martin claimed that the company had attracted considerable interest from both companies and individuals in representing Australia.

"We take the localisation of our service very seriously and we would only enter the market if we were confident that the local partner had the necessary regulatory and health policy relationships in place," he said.

"We need to do due diligence on prospective partners policies in the areas of ethics, data security, technical capability and good laboratory practice."

Martin said that Sciona was interested in forming relationships with Australian researchers for the purposes of product development and validation.

A spokesperson from the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) said that tests such as Sciona's, which gives information about physiological state, would require listing on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

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