Exposing the untamed wilderness of genetic testing for pets


In a recent commentary, Drs. Lisa Moses, Steven Niemi and Elinor Karlsson offer causes for concern and advice for regulation.

Shutterstock.comThe pet care industry is currently booming to the tune of around $109 billion annually, according to research firm Euromonitor International, and it has a relatively new addition that's gaining attention as well as concern: genetic testing.

Lisa Moses, VMD, DACVIM, a pain specialist at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and bioethicist at Harvard University, has published a commentary in a recent issue of Nature about the science and ethics of this developing area. Along with her co-authors-Steven Niemi, DVM, DACLAM, and Elinor Karlsson, PhD-Dr. Moses states that canine genetic testing is moving faster than the speed of research needed to confirm its accuracy and usefulness. According to the commentary, there are at least 19 laboratories in the world marketing genetic-testing products and at least one U.S. veterinary hospital chain recommending genetic testing for every dog. Yet the authors assert that the practice is plagued by a lack of validation, imprecise results and interpretation, and unchecked conflicts of interest.

These problems are even more concerning in light of what the authors call the coming “tsunami of genomic data.” Technology from human medicine will allow pet owners to have access to whole-genome sequencing for any pet of any species within the next five years, the commentary says.

“Pet genetics must be reined in,” Dr. Moses and co-authors state. “If not, some companies will continue to profit by selling potentially misleading and often inaccurate information; pets and their owners will suffer needlessly; and opportunities to improve pet health and even to leverage studies in dogs and cats to benefit human health might be lost.”

The authors aren't all doom and gloom when it comes to pet genetic testing, however. They offer five steps necessary for harnessing it for good, including establishing standards, creating guidelines to support these standards, improving transparency through data sharing, recruiting experts who can analyze and manage the incoming data, and training a team of veterinary professionals to serve as pet genetic counselors.

With the right controls in place, the authors say genetic testing could be a “powerful way to better connect people to the possibilities of genetics for treating disease.”

To access the full commentary, click here.

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