Mobile testing truck makes DNA testing approachable and accessible to the community while competing with established clinical laboratories
You may have seen recent news coverage of a van cruising the streets of New York City that was offering on-the-spot DNA testing with signs plastered on sides reading “Who’s Your Daddy”—“DNA Testing.” Certainlyany passing pathologist or clinical chemist might do a double take.
According to abc News coverage of the story, passersby can hail the 28-foot recreational vehicle to have their DNA tested. Of course, no testing is performed in the mobile van. Rather, a technician collects a sample from the customer, packages it, and sends it to a laboratory in Ohio for testing. Results come back in three to five days. Prices for the testing service start at $299.
New York-based Health Street is the company that operates the unit. The company requires customers to have a prescription for the test from a physician. The truck’s typical customers include males seeking to confirm offspring from a past relationship, returning soldiers, and females inquiring about paternity on behalf of their children, the abc News reported.
Health Street was found by Jared Rosenthal, who also drives the van. He originated the advertising message. “I couldn’t afford to rent an office, [so we converted] the RV to a mobile office,” he told abc News. “People love the artwork—it makes them smile and they share it with their friends on social media and get in touch with people who maybe do need DNA tests.”
Experts Advise Use of Accredited Clinical Laboratories
Despite the humorous branding, the DNA mobile clinic raises some serious questions. And that has some experts concerned. Genetic test results can have significant ramifications for families and individuals. Experts express two areas of concern. One concern is the reliability of the genetic tests themselves. The other concern centers upon the potentially devastating psychological impact that results of relationship testing could have on unprepared families and individuals. Unexpected results could jeopardize existing family relationships, the story’s writer reported.
For its DNA testing, Health Street uses a laboratory that it says is certified by the AABB, as well as the New York State Department of Health, Rosenthal noted in a story published at health24.com. However, there are no regulations on the specimen-collection operations themselves, the story reported.
“The underlying issues are obviously the quality of testing,” declared Susan L. Crockin, J.D., principal, The Crockin Law & Policy Group, LLC, and Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown Law Center, Georgetown University. Crockin specializes in assisted reproductive technologies. Quoted in the health24 story, she cautioned that consumers throughout the country should be careful about the reliability of relationship testing services.
According to Michael Baird, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer and Laboratory Director at DNA Diagnostics, it is not illegal to run a DNA testing laboratory that is not certified by AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks). He is also a chair of the Relationship Testing Standards Committee at AABB.
Consumers Are Driving Demand for DNA Testing
Baird noted in the health24 story that there has been a steady increase in demand for DNA testing. Close to 500,000 such tests are performed annually. Most of the demand comes from state child-support agencies. However, growing numbers of individuals are seeking out the tests and the number of access points for such testing has increased.
“The bigger question is what do we do with this information,” asked Crockin. “Why are we looking for it and what do we think it means?” She observed that trained genetic counseling should be a component of relationship DNA testing. This is especially true for children, she noted.
But, as reported in the health24 story, accessible genetic testing is changing lives. Two women finally confirmed that they were half-sisters through DNA testing at Health Street. A New York man confirmed recently that he was the father of the daughter of a woman he dated 20 years ago.
What may be of greater importance for pathologists and clinical laboratory administrators is the question of how this emerging form of easily-accessible genetic testing will impact the evolving competitive market for medical laboratory testing.
For example, does a mobile DNA testing van cruising the streets of New York represent a credible example of how the competitive market for laboratory testing is evolving? Further, is this business model a threat to centralized clinical laboratory testing sites? After all, there is rapid and ongoing progress in research and technology development that could produce systems that can analyze DNA in near-patient and point-of-care (POC) settings.
—Pamela Scherer McLeod