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Bioethics Panel Probes Marketed Medical Tests

Ordinary folk can now try to be masters of their own health, as private companies offer online DNA tests and full-body CT or MRI scans. But these services, which often offer health information without a doctor’s guidance, have stirred up much controversy in the medical community, with claims that the results the companies provide can be inaccurate or misleading to the average layperson.

In response to this issue, the U.K.’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics launched a consultation today on the ethical, legal, social, and economic issues behind these commerical health services. The council is soliciting the views of people interested in such services, as well as the academics and companies that may be developing or providing such personalized medical tests.

Currently, there is no overarching regulation of commercial DNA testing or body imaging in the United Kingdom. Commercial testing is convenient and allows people to take more personal responsibility for their health, “but the potential problems are several-fold,” says Hugh Whittall, director of the council. Some argue that the DNA tests offered are often not validated enough to give an accurate indication of disease risk, he says. And CT scanning, Whittall adds, is known for producing false positives—in which the image wrongly diagnoses a problem. What’s more, private tests are expensive: A full-body MRI or CT scan can cost several thousand pounds.

The council hopes to deliver its report addressing such issues by spring 2010 and will likely make recommendations on how the U.K. government should regulate these direct-to-consumer medical tests.