APOE genomics gets personal

The personal genomics company 23andme has added testing for the variants of the gene APOE; people who carry the ε4 variant of this gene have increased risk of developing sporadic Alzheimer’s disease, the most common version of the disease.

This is very tricky adventure for personal genomics.  Smart Genetics was the pioneer in this field, but they closed down when they were found to be infringing upon the patent held by Duke University for APOE predictive testing for Alzheimer’s disease.  The patent infringement case was ultimately technical, but it resulted in a spotlight being drawn to the issue of APOE testing for the masses, and some of the comments that were made at the time in a report by Nature News are relevant today.

“The test was never intended to be used for wholesale screening of non-cognitively impaired individuals,” said Alan Herosian, director of corporate alliances for Duke University.

Even more telling was the observation made by Allen Roses, the lead scientist on the Duke patent who said

“ethical aspects of risk assessments will change if clinical trials identify drugs to treat the disease. Currently, knowing one’s risk of developing the disease may simply cause needless worry, as there is no prevention or treatment.” Continue reading