A new genetic testing machine, the 'size of a shoebox', could soon be available in doctor's surgeries and pharmacies, in order to test, using saliva, blood or urine, whether a person has a susceptibility to a particular illness or genetic condition.
The portable machine could also be used by travellers to determine whether they possess a faulty copy of a gene involved in blood clotting and which has been linked to deep vein thrombosis. It could also test whether a patient has a genetic predisposition to side-effects of particular drugs.
The test would take about 30 minutes to run, said Paul Debenham, a geneticist from the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science last week. The machine has 'the power to revolutionise modern medicine', he added. It works by testing for SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), small differences in the DNA of people.
The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) and other genetics watchdogs are concerned about so-called over-the-counter genetic tests. The HGC is currently considering whether restrictions should be placed on the sale of such tests to the public. But Mr Debenham stressed that the new machine was not intended for use by the public, but by health professionals.