The study of genetics is still a relatively young science in the history of humanity. Only since the 1800s did scientists identify the existence of genes and in 1905 was the first time the term ‘gene’ was coined by an English biologist.

Since the early 1900s with the technological advancements of the 20th century scientists have come a long way. In the past four decades with more precise ability to study genes using high powered microscopes and testing equipment genetic testing has become more popularized.

1950s: DNA’s First Discovery

It wasn’t until 1953 that a crucial paper on the discovery of the double helix nature of DNA was published by James Watson and Francis Crick. This has forever changed the world and had wide ranging impacts from health care to law enforcement.

Along with the publication of this paper, this is the same decade when scientists discovered the genetic ‘footprint’ of Down’s Syndrome in DNA. This was significant as it was the first time scientists linked a disorder to genes, therefore making it a genetic disorder.

1990s: The Use of DNA in Forensics to Solve Crimes

Genetic testing got its big start in the 1980s for crime scene forensics and then the FBI officially started using it in 1998. This was just two years after the first clinical service was publicly offered by the University of Pennsylvania to use DNA testing to identify breast cancer.

1994: DNA First Used to Screen For Breast Cancer

The very first type of medical genetic testing was for breast cancer based on clinical trials in 1994 and 1995. These clinical trials were focused on identifying two specific genes that had been linked to making females more susceptible to breast cancer known as BRCA1 and BRCA2.

2006: Genetic Screening Receives Complete Federal Approval

Dating back to the early 2000s the FDA officially approved many of these tests and in recent years we have seen more specific approvals from the FDA on tests. While some tests were originally unregulated without protections for consumers, this has changed in recent years since 2006. This regulation went beyond the Food and Drug Administration to also include the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as the Federal Trade Commission.

Now we have a variety of federally approved genetic tests offered by nationwide providers to help seniors and families across the country with preventative care.

All of these tests are regulated based on three core criteria to ensure that consumers are protected. These criteria include analytical validity, clinical validity and clinical utility. This type of regulation became necessary to ensure that fake and baseless genetic tests were not being offered to the public.

2020s: Now There Are Over 2000 Screening Tests

While genetic testing started in 1996 to identify breast cancer, more than 2 decades later that has expanded significantly. Now genetic testing has the ability to identify over 2,000 different illnesses including:

  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Macular Degeneration
  • Psoriasis
  • Dyslexia
  • Other types of Cancer

Testing methods have come a long way since the 1990s with the very first genetic tests for breast cancer. These different options in genetic testing have become more helpful in different situations to identify specific mutations in genes that can lead to cancer or to other diseases.

For example, there is multi-gene panel testing for a higher amount of genes sampling at once. While there is also site-specific testing for those who have a family member who has already tested positive for genetic predisposition.

From the FTC Fact Sheet on Genetic Testing

Link To The FTC Fact Sheet

These are two important facts to keep in mind reported by the FDA regarding at-home consumer genetic testing:

Validity of Genetic Tests According To The FDA And CDC

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the manufacturers of genetic tests; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which promotes health and quality of life, some of these tests lack scientific validity, and others provide medical results that are meaningful only in the context of a full medical evaluation.

Types of Genetic Tests

Typically, these tests require a blood sample or a swab from inside the cheek. In “at-home” tests, the sample is collected at your home and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Prices of at-home genetic tests range from $295 to $1200. 

Claims Of Genetic Tests

Having a particular gene doesn’t necessarily mean that a disease will develop; not having a particular gene doesn’t necessarily mean that the disease will not.

To learn more about the benefits of genetic testing visit these links:

Is Genetic Testing Worth It For Seniors?

Why Seniors Benefit The Most From Genetic Testing

Can Medicare 100% Subsidize Genetic Testing?