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Top hospitals are embracing DNA testing – but you probably can't afford it

DNA strands
(Image credit: ShutterStock)

Some of America's most prestigious medical institutions are opening DNA sequencing clinics to capitalise on public interest in genetics testing – but will the pricey offerings prove as popular the best DNA testing kits?

As per a recent STAT report, two leading Boston area hospitals are the latest to reveal new programs dedicated to helping people dive deeper into the disease risks potentially hidden in their genes.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital has announced its Preventive Genomics Clinics, which will offer a range of testing options costing between $250 and $2,950, while Massachusetts General Hospital will launch a similarly priced program in September.

The pair join a number of other high-profile U.S. medical institutions that have rolled out DNA sequencing clinics in recent years, including the Mayo Clinic, the University of California (San Francisco), and Alabama's HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

DNA testing gets serious

Dr. David Bick, who runs the elective genomics program at HudsonAlpha, said that the rise in popularity of at-home DNA testing kits like 23andMe had helped spur on interest in genetics sequencing – both amongst individuals and in the medical community.

“I think there’s just more and more interest from patients and families not only because of 23andMe and the like, but because there’s just this understanding that if you can find out information about your health before you become sick, then really our opportunity as physicians to do something to help you is much greater,” he told STAT.

However, with this new breed of hospital DNA clinics typically charging thousands of dollars for their top-tier sequencing programs, the question is: can anyone other than the well-to-do really afford this level of insight into their genetics?

Bick admitted, for instance, that less than 50 adults have paid the $7,000 for whole genome sequencing and interpretation since HudsonAlpha launched its offering in 2016.

By way of comparison, an at-home kit like 23andMe costs $199 for its most fully-featured package combining health and genealogy insights – $50 less than the entry-level offering at Brigham and Women’s new Preventive Genomics Clinics.

Of course, we can't claim that the medical value of at-home DNA kits is the same as going to a renowned hospital for advanced genetics testing.

Nevertheless, many Americans may find the former option to be a more convenient and cost-effective way to start probing their genes – after which more the benefits of more sophisticated programs can be considered.