Beware of genetic tests assessing Covid-19 risk, new study finds

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Genetic tests promising to assess a person’s risk of contracting severe Covid-19 provide inconsistent results, according to a new study, not based on established scientific information.

Some preliminary findings suggest that a person’s genetic makeup may play a role in determining whether they are at greater risk of contracting or having serious consequences from Covid-19. However, many of these results have yet to be validated on a large number of people and laboratory experiments to directly prove whether a particular genetic variant influences the risk of Covid-19 infection or the results largely do not. been made. Most of the currently available evidence suggests a correlation between certain genetic variants and Covid-19 outcomes, but does not directly show that the variants cause the outcome.

The new research was presented this week at the annual meeting of the National Society of Genetic Counselors and evaluated 5 directly available genetic tests claiming to determine an individual’s risk of being infected with Covid-19 or the likelihood to develop severe symptoms of Covid-19. The tests came from SelfDecode, Sequencing.com, GeneInformed, LifeDNA, and Xcode and analyze raw genotyping data from companies such as 23andMe. The cost of susceptibility testing to Covid-19 ranged from free to $ 59, although additional fees to access the data were also sometimes present. The researchers found that there was great variability between tests in the number of genes analyzed and also which genes or variants were tested.

Three of the five tests claimed they could signal an individual’s risk of actually being infected with Covid-19. One tested 4-gene variants, the other tested 7-gene variants, and the third tested 31 gene variants. But only one variant was included in all three tests, raising questions about why genetic tests designed to assess the same thing were so different by design. The remaining two tests purported to predict the risk of severe symptoms from Covid-19, but these showed even more variability than the three tests purported to predict the risk of infection.

“The message for those who want to know their Covid-19 risk is ‘buyer beware’,” said Aid Esther Choi, BS, study co-author and genetic counseling student in the graduate program in genetic counseling from Kean University in Union, New Jersey. “Many genomic tests aimed directly at consumers are unregulated, so they often go under the radar of the medical community and the Covid-19 information they provide can be misleading and give consumers a false sense of security,” he said. added Choi.

The researchers then evaluated the different tests using an individual’s genetic data, expecting to see similar results. However, one test indicated the person had a lower than average risk of severe Covid-19, while another test indicated the same person had a higher risk of severe symptoms from Covid-19. Even when it comes to specific genetic variants, the tests did not always agree on the implications of these. For example, a particular variant of a gene called IL-18 has been described as both an increased risk of severity from Covid-19 and a moderately reduced risk of complications from Covid-19, according to the test.

So what should people do to assess their risk of Covid-19?

“They are better off avoiding these tests and should consult medical professionals instead,” Choi said.


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