Technique May Take Guesswork Out of Gene Tests, Scientists Say

Personal genetics testing is all the rage, but these tests can't tell you if a particular gene you might have will actually make you sick. Now, researchers say they may be a step closer to tests that avoid that uncertainty.

Scientists used genetic engineering to tweak one breast cancer gene, BRCA1, into thousands of small variations. They then tested it in a lab see whether or not it might spur breast cancer if it appeared in a person.

Checking the results against reliable data on breast cancer and BRCA1, "we were very accurate," researcher Lea Starita, of the Brotman Baby Institute for Precision Medicine in Seattle, told the Associated Press. Of the 169 BRCA1 variations declared dangerous in a database, the new test correctly identified 162.

Her team hopes to extend its work to other genes. The goal is to make gene tests much more reliable, helping to relieve people's anxieties and let them make informed decisions before undergoing radical procedures such as preventive mastectomy.

"I really, really hope" the promising results of this preliminary research is borne out by later trials, Starita told the AP. The findings were published Sept. 12 in the journal Nature.

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