Home bipolar test? What. In. The. World.

DNA strand

I stumbled upon an AP article on Yahoo! News titled, “Home bipolar disorder test causes stirs.” No kidding.

I read the article trying to figure out how this company, Psynomics, is able to genetically figure out who is more predisposed to what.

To take the test, patients receive by mail a plastic cup that they spit into, seal and send back to Psynomics. The company analyzes DNA in the saliva.

Psynomics will send patients’ test results only to their doctors to avoid the risk of self-diagnosis.

Here’s a sample report located on the Web site (PDF file).

Are you interested? If you’re anyone other than a white person of Northern European ancestry who shows some bipolar symptoms and has at least one other bipolar family member, then you don’t meet the criteria for this testing. Even if you do, save your money and buy something else – the test costs a steep $399 and the results aren’t entirely certain. In fact, researchers and doctors say there is very little data at the moment to support testing DNA for bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses.

[Dr. John] Kelsoe, 52, acknowledges that bipolar disorder probably results from a combination of genetic factors and life experiences, and that the presence of these gene variations does not at all mean that someone will, in fact, develop the disease. He admits, too, that his findings about the genetic basis of the illness are far from complete.

“The goal of this is to try and help doctors make an accurate diagnosis more quickly so the patient can be treated appropriately,” Kelsoe said. “Anything is going to help, even if it just helps a little bit.”

I’m worried that people are going to think that they have bipolar disorder, fork over the money for gene testing, and be told when that they have bipolar disorder when they really don’t. Why manufacture a mental illness for a person that may not exist?

In coming months, at least two other startups led by genetic researchers are set to release their own psychiatric genetic tests. One test claims to predict the risk of developing schizophrenia. The other is designed to forecast the likelihood that some medications for major depression could heighten suicidal thoughts in patients.

As much as I’m not a fan of psychiatrists and there’s always the chance for misdiagnosis, I call this company a scam designed to prey upon people’s insecurities. (Perhaps bipolar people would purchase this in the midst of a spending spree?) Regardless, some people are buying into this product that even the maker admits isn’t entirely accurate.

Psynomics has sold only a few tests so far but is projecting sales of 1,800 tests in 2008 and 30,000 in the next five years.

Considering that it now has major media coverage, it’s likely to take off even more.
(Image sciam.com)

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1 Comment

  1. BPD in OKC said,

    March 24, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    The idea of testing yourself at home for mental illnesses is just ridiculous


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