Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bipolar in a Cup

Home diagnosis test are not considered a novel notion within today’s society. However, with rapid scientific developments many genetic tests have become available which claim to assist with the prediction of a wide variety of illness and even cancer. Last month Dr. John Kelsoe, a geneticist at the University of California, began offering and supplying one of the first psychiatric gene tests.

Dr. John Kelsoe and his company, La Jolla based Psynomics, have designed and produced a test which allows the public to test their individual susceptibility to developing bipolar based upon their genetic make-up. The bipolar genetic tests began Internet sales last month at a price of $399. The test simply requires the patient to spit into a cup which they are sent by mail. The cup is then returned to Psynomics where the DNA is analysed.

Kelsoe’s decision to release the test to the public follows his career research into determining the biological roots of bipolar disorder. He admits that his research on the genetic basis of the illness still remains incomplete. However, Kelsoe and Psynomics are suggesting that the test be used as a diagnostic tool rather than a way to successfully predict a person’s risk of developing bipolar later in their life. Despite the presence of genetic variations which sometimes suggest future development of the disease, Kelsoe admits that the disorder probably occurs as a result of both life experiences as well as such genetic variations.

The release of these gene tests onto the market has sparked debate and split public opinion. Many health experts are concerned that products such as the bipolar test are increasing the anxieties of the public. As well as this, there is continued concern that the public does not have enough understanding of the condition in order to interpret the results correctly. Whilst some who discover the presence of bipolar related gene variations within their DNA may never actually develop the condition, it is still possible that people who receive negative results could still develop bipolar.

The test is yet to establish any strong validity, something that should have been established before the “$399 spit cup” was sold to the public via the easily accessed Internet. Although the test may legitimately provide a fast and efficient way of diagnosis in the future, at present the process requires all patients to be better educated. The public need to be better informed not only to understand the results and the implications of these results, but simply the condition itself.

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Image: Dr John Kelsoe and his colleagues

Posted by Jess Lister (41760848)

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