NEW DELHI: The government is exploring recreational genetics, a new area in the field of genome testing, for reducing India’s disease burden.

Private DNA testing laboratories offering recreational genetics tests are already burgeoning in India. Now, the department of biotechnology (DBT) has initiated a programme called human genetics and genome analysis in which the country’s genetic resource is being utilized to develop baseline data initially on various ethnic groups for disease susceptibility.

“We are focusing on improving human health by promoting the development and dissemination of genomic methodologies and tools for prediction and prevention of human disease, and for therapeutic intervention. The aim is to improve disease management through lifestyle modulation, improvement in public health, reduction of disease burden, and lowering of treatment cost with more genetic laboratories and trained personnel in the area," said Renu Swarup, secretary at DBT.

Several private laboratories are using recreational genetic tests to offer a tailor-made lifestyle, diet, weight loss, and disease prevention plan for each individual for maintaining optimal health and fitness.

While recreational genetic tests are common in the US and several European countries, in India the genetic testing market is still at a nascent stage. The addressable market for recreational genetic tests is 500,000, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). This could actually be in millions, industry experts claim. “As genetic testing can reveal how one’s genes behave and respond, personal genetic information can provide data that can help people make more informed health-related decisions about their lifestyle, goals, dietary habits, fitness, nutrition and weight management," said Chandni Luthra, director and co-founder, FutureMed, a Delhi-based biotechnology company.

Research is also on to establish the link between genetics and obesity. “At present, we are not ready for genetic tests to predict weight loss. However, there are some encouraging leads and, for the first time, we are doing research on this issue in India," said Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis-C-DOC Centre for Diabetes, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology and National Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation.

Companies such as FutureMed are offering genetic tests for skin, hair, detox, pharmacogenomics, a branch of genetics used to determine the likely response of an individual to therapeutic drugs and diagnostic of diseases such as cancer. The company also offers customized vitamin supplements based on an individual’s nutritional genetic profile.

“Genetic screening, especially in the wellness space, is a new concept," said Luthra .

Another diagnostics laboratory chain in India, specializing in genetics, CORE Diagnostics, offers recreational genetic tests such as geneCORE Predict, where sequencing and analysing the genome of an individual, a geneticist can predict the risk, genetic carrier status of 22 types of cancers, and the likelihood of passing it on to the next generation.

Similarly, in liquiCORE test, helps patients decide the drugs and medical approaches suitable for them.

“Diverse purposes of genetic testing have already been identified, like screening for genetic diseases in newborns, children and adults. The cost of genetic testing varies between 5,000 and 5 lakh. However, the more important aspect is the counselling session with the healthcare provider that can help zero in on the correct test out of the plethora of choices," said Zoya Brar, MD and founder of CORE Diagnostics.

“An important part is to visit a genetic counsellor or a healthcare professional as they are trained professionals who play a key role in helping patients get the care that’s right for them. They work with patients to help them understand genetic testing, guide them through the process and make informed choices based on their results," said Brar.

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