Companies are exploring creative ways to use genetic testing and counseling to improve the health of their employees demonstrating increasing trust in genetic science
Genetic testing has been a product offered by distributors of Amway Global of Ada, Mich., since 2009. Now Amway is launching a program to provide certain genetic tests to its employees working within the United States.
More than 5,000 Amway employees can take advantage of this genetic testing as an innovative benefit. Through its partnership with Interleukin Genetics (NYSE Amex: ILI), a genetics-based health company headquartered in Waltham, Mass., Amway seeks to empower its personnel to assess their genetic risk for chronic inflammation, which can lead to disease.
Medical Laboratory Test is a Benefit Offered to Amway Employees in the US
The kit available to Amway employees is called PerioPredict. It examines a person’s genetic makeup to detect risk factors for severe periodontal disease by measuring variations in the cytokine Interleukin-1 (IL-1), a key mediator of inflammation. The overproduction of these inflammatory cytokines can lead to periodontitis, an inflammatory disease that can destroy the tissue and bone that supports teeth.
The PerioPredict test is quick, painless, and easily performed in a dentist’s office. A genetic sample is obtained from the mouth via a cheek swab. The sample is then sent to Interleukin Genetics for analysis. Tests results are typically returned to the dentist within a few weeks, enabling the dentist to initiate preventative measures to reduce the risk of damage to the teeth and gums.
Genetic Variation Leads to Disease
Periodontal disease begins when the immune system negatively reacts to the bacteria in plaque, causing the gums to become inflamed. When this inflammation, called gingivitis, is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis, which causes the gums to pull away from the teeth and form pockets that become infected. This infection can ravage the bone and connective tissue that holds teeth in place and could result in tooth loss.
The IL-1 genetic variation that can lead to periodontal disease is present in approximately one-third of the adult population in the United States. Symptoms of periodontitis include mouth pain, swollen gums, sensitive teeth and gums, loose teeth, chronic bad breath, and receding gums. Periodontitis is one of the leading causes of tooth loss in the United States and is associated with diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and other inflammation-related diseases.
Disease Linked to Genetic Susceptibility
Individuals respond differently to bacterial plaque, and about half of the variations in the severity of periodontal disease are believed to be genetic. This genetic susceptibility, along with hormonal changes, smoking, diabetes, certain medical treatments, and some over-the-counter and prescription medications, can increase an individual’s chance of receiving a diagnosis of periodontal disease.
The price of the PerioPredict test is around $200 per person and includes 18 months of education and counseling with patients and their dental care teams from Interleukin Genetics.
Other Genetic Test Kits Amway Sells to Consumers
Amway, short for the American Way, has been in operation for more than 50 years and is one of the world’s largest direct selling businesses. There are approximately three million Amway distributors selling their merchandise in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide.
Amway distributors (AKA Amway Global Independent Business Owners) have been selling “Inherent Health” brand genetic tests by Interleukin Genetics since 2009. These tests enable individuals to assess their risks for certain health conditions. They include:
• The Weight Management Genetic Test, which provides beneficial information to individuals regarding the best type of diet and exercise plans for weight management and weight loss based on their genotype.
• The Heart Health Genetic Test, which examines variations in the IL-1 gene, which can identify a person’s predisposition to certain types of heart disease associated with excess inflammation in the body.
• The Nutritional Needs Genetic Test, which analyzes DNA variations in genes essential to the optimal metabolism of B-vitamins. This test also evaluates the potential for cell damage in the body generated by oxidative stress.
• The Bone Health Genetic Test, which determines an individual’s vulnerability to low bone mineral density and fractures affiliated with osteoporosis.
The mouth contains markers that are beneficial in the diagnosis of disease, but very few diagnostic tests exist for use by dentists. As awareness of the validity of genetic testing continues to increase, the utilization of products like PerioPredict should continue to grow and provide valuable information to healthcare professionals in disease prevention.
Unlike the other genetic tests Amway sells, the PerioPredict genetic test being offered to Amway’s employees will not be sold by Amway distributors to the general public.
For clinical laboratory managers and pathologists, there are interesting insights to be gleaned from these developments. First, the fact that Amway distributors have sold genetic tests to the public since 2009 without any public attention or negative consequences shows that consumers are willing to listen as their friends and colleagues who are Amway distributors educate them about genetic tests and how they can be useful.
Second, with its decision to provide a genetic test to its US employees as part of the company’s health benefit plan, Amway is demonstrating that there is enough maturity in the genetic testing market to make it a worthwhile service. It may also be a sign that Amway wants to be proactive at helping its employees detect certain diseases earlier, when they are easier and less expensive to treat.