News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel

News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Pet Owner Sends Her Own Cheek Swab Samples to a Pet DNA Testing Laboratory and Gets a Report That She is Part Border Collie and Bulldog

In a follow-up story, investigative news team in Boston sends a reporter’s cheek swab sample to the same pet DNA testing lab: report states the reporter is part Malamute, Shar Pei, and Labrador Retriever

One pet DNA testing company returned results from human cheek swabs showing two different people were in fact part dog. The resulting local reporting calls into question the accuracy of DNA testing of our beloved furry friends and may impact the trust people have in clinical laboratory genetic testing as well.

Pet DNA analysis is nearly as popular as human DNA analysis. The market is expected to exceed $700 million by the end of the decade, according to Zion Market Research. But are customers getting their money’s worth? One CBS news station in Boston decided to find out.

Last year, the WBZ I-Team, the investigative part of a CBS News station in Boston, looked into the accuracy of pet DNA testing. They reported on a pet owner who questioned the DNA test results she received for her German Shepard. The report indicated that her dog had DNA from more than 10 breeds, besides German Shepard.

During their research, the WBZ investigative reporters learned that pet owners order these tests to reveal what one pet DNA testing company described as understanding “your dog’s unique appearance, behavior, and health.”

“So, the WBZ-TV I-Team came with more tests from different companies to compare. All came back with some German Shepherd, but the percentages ranged from 65% to just 29%. Aside from that, the three companies showed a puzzling hodgepodge of other breeds. One included Great Pyrenees, another came back with Siberian Husky, another listed Korean Jindo, and the list goes on,” WBZ News reported.

The owner of the German Shepard then sent two swab samples from her own cheeks to one of the pet DNA testing companies. The test results indicated that she was 40% Border Collie, 32% Cane Corso, and 28% Bulldog.

The company that performed that DNA testing—DNA My Dog—insisted to the WBZ I-Team that one of the pet owner’s cheek samples contained dog DNA, WBZ News reported.

“The second sample did in fact yield canine DNA. … The results provided would not be possible on a human sample,” Jessica Barnett, Director of Service Operations, DNA My Dog, told WBZ News.

This must have come as a shock to the pet owner, who is probably sure she is not part dog.

 “I think that is a red flag for sure,” Lisa Moses, VMD (above), a veterinarian and bioethicist with Harvard Medical School, told WBZ News. “A company should know if they’ve in any basic way analyzed a dog’s DNA, that that is not a dog,” she said. One wonders what might happen if a dog’s DNA was secretly sent to a clinical laboratory performing human genetic testing. What might the results be? (Photo copyright: Harvard Medical School.)

Two Times is the Charm

To continue its investigation into this odd occurrence, the WBZ I-Team decided to repeat the test this year. They sent a cheek saliva sample from one of their own reporters to three different dog DNA testing companies. 

According to the I-Team report, one company, Orivet, said the sample “failed to provide the data necessary to perform breed ID analysis. Another company, Wisdom Panel stated the sample “didn’t provide enough DNA to produce a reliable result.”

However, DNA My Dog once again reported that the human sample belonged to a canine. This time the company’s test reported that the DNA sample was 40% Alaskan Malamute, 35% Shar Pei, and 25% Labrador Retriever.

DNA My Dog did not respond to WBZ I-Team’s attempt to contact them for a comment, WBZ News reported.

Wild West of DNA Testing

“I personally do have concerns about the fact that, from a consumer standpoint, you don’t always know what you’re getting when you work with those companies,” said geneticist Elinor Karlsson, PhD, Director of the Vertebrate Genomics Group at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, told WBZ News. “There’s not a lot of rules in this space.”

Karlsson is also founder and Chief Scientist at Darwin’s Ark, a nonprofit organization that combines dog genetics and behavior to advance the understanding of complex canine diseases. People participating in the initiative contribute data about their dogs to an open source database, which is then shared with researchers around the globe. To date, more than 44,000 dogs have been registered with the project. 

She hopes that reports like the one from the WBZ I-Team will not dissuade interest in pet genetics, as the science does have significant value when performed correctly. 

“We might be able to figure out which dogs are at risk of getting cancer, and screen them more often and be able to diagnose it earlier,” Karlsson said. “We might be able to develop new treatments for that cancer.”

“There isn’t necessarily a gold standard answer for what your dog is,” veterinarian and bioethicist Lisa Moses, VMD, co-director of the Capstone Program for the Master of Science in Bioethics Program at Harvard Medical School, told WBZ News. “A breed is something that we’ve decided, which is based upon essentially the way a dog looks. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to know what their genes look like.”

DNA My Dog Awarded ‘Best Budget Dog DNA Test’

In February, US News and World Report published an article rating the best dog DNA tests of 2024. The magazine ranked the DNA My Dog Essential Breed ID Test as the “best budget dog DNA test on the market.” The test sells for $79.99. According to the company’s website, a simple cheek swab yields:

  • A complete breed breakdown,
  • Genetic health concerns,
  • Unique personality traits, and
  • Bonding tips for dogs and their owners.

“I worry about people making medical decisions … based on one of these tests,” Moses told WBZ News, which added that, “She and some of her colleagues have called on lawmakers to set standards and regulations for pet DNA labs, and to require them to share their databases with each other, for more consistent results.”

The investigation into pet DNA testing by the television news reporters in Boston is a reminder to clinical lab managers and pathologists that DNA testing can be problematic in many ways. Also, when consumers read news stories like this one about inaccurate canine DNA testing, it can cause them to question the accuracy of other types of DNA testing.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

I-Team: How Accurate Are Pet DNA Tests? We Sent One Lab a Swab From a Human

Pet DNA Company Sends Back Dog Breed Results from Human Sample a Second Time

Pet DNA Testing Company in Doghouse after Identifying Human as Canine

Best Dog DNA Tests of 2024

Global Dog DNA Test Market Size Forecast Projected to Growth to USD 723 Million by 2030 with 15.1% CAGR

Dog DNA Test Market Size Report, Industry Share, Analysis, Growth 2030

Expected Increase in Demand for Remote Health Monitoring of America’s Elderly Presents Opportunities for Clinical Laboratories to Provide Services

As our population continues to age, the demand increases for more clinical services and medical laboratory tests that cater to the growing needs of senior citizens

Elderly patients represent the fastest growing healthcare demographic in America. Thus, it is no surprise that healthcare professional in the field of Elderly Care are interested in technologies that enable them to remotely monitor the senior citizens under their care.

Telehealth devices, for example, that monitor a patient’s condition and transmits reports/alerts to primary care doctors and clinical laboratories when biomarkers deviate from set parameters, are becoming frontline tools for ambulatory and home-health practices.

Even emergency departments (EDs) are adopting remote-healthcare, as Dark Daily reported in “Community Paramedicine Brings Emergency Care into Patients’ Homes, Could Increase Clinical Laboratory Specimens Collected in These Settings.”

Healthcare and the Aging Consumer

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), there are more than 108 million people in the United States over the age of 50. This figure includes over 76 million baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. The number of people over the age of 50 is expected to grow by 19 million over the next decade.

At the latest Aging 2.0 OPTIMIZE conference in San Francisco, Jaana Remes, PhD, economist and partner at the McKinsey Global Institute stated, “In healthcare, there is a clear shift in consumption, and its mainly from a consumer we don’t hear a lot about: the aging consumer. There are a lot of attitudes of stereotypes, and they are still less well known,” noted a MobiHealthNews article. “There is more equality, more diversity, they are more likely to be working later, more likely to be single, they are the most educated older generation yet, and they are much more likely to be tech savvy.”  

Remes added it is important that new technology—such as apps, remote-monitoring systems, and platforms for care teams—are designed with the understanding that seniors will use them. “We need to make things that are suitable, particularly for the 75 and older crowd, to customize their needs,” she stated. “Fewer younger people are taking care of their parents.”

Elderly Care is Four-Five Times More Costly

A report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that healthcare costs rise exponentially after a person reaches age 50. According to the report, annual healthcare costs for the elderly are four to five times higher than individuals in their teens.

“Life expectancy has changed dramatically in the US, but while people are living longer, they aren’t necessarily living healthier,” stated Bruce Chernof, MD, President and CEO, The SCAN Foundation, in the MobiHealthNews article. “Maybe they are living with higher function and longer, but they are living with more chronic diseases. Where could tech play a role?” The SCAN Foundation is an independent public charity dedicated to improving care for older adults.

Critical Need for Home Health Monitoring Tools

As America’s population ages, the demand for home healthcare services is escalating at significant rates. According to a report from Zion Market Research, the global market for home healthcare services was valued at $229 billion in 2015. The report also states that that number should reach $391 billion by 2021.

Because families are becoming smaller, and a higher percentage of older adults are single than in the past, there is a greater need for caregivers who provide in-home care. Approximately two thirds of persons receiving home healthcare obtain that care from unpaid relatives and friends.

“The need for technology-enabled caregivers and care support goes up,” noted Chernof in the MobiHealthNews article. “So, we have to look mainly at ‘what is the problem I am trying to solve?’”

Fujitsu Laboratories Limited and Fujitsu Ireland Ltd. ran the KIDUKU Project from 2013-2016. The research initiative was designed to “provide monitoring services and assisted independent living for senior citizens and patients who live in smart houses.” (Graphic copyright: Fujitsu Laboratories Limited.)

Since the largest group of healthcare consumers are seniors, it is crucial to create tools that improve their quality of life and the effectiveness of the healthcare they receive. These tools include monitoring services for both healthcare and home care providers.

“On the pure technology side, it’s simple things like a dashboard report that family members can access that indicate what sensors at home they can interact with, enabling them to track patterns at home, so we can have the family get together and talk, rather than having to bring someone in every few weeks or months and try to figure out the problem moving backwards,” stated Lily Sarafan in the MobiHealthNews article. Sarafan is President and CEO of Home Care Assistance in San Francisco.

According to Sarafan, a significant part of senior care and monitoring is creating technology that tracks patient health and includes a personalized approach to care.

“Collecting better data that we can share with our 10,000 referral partners around the country on what’s happening in that white space, what happens in between when someone sees their healthcare provider two or three times per year because of an emergency or a check-up, and now we’re potentially interacting with a patient 24/7 for months or even years,” she stated. “That’s what puts us in the best possible situation to share data across players in the ecosystem and prevent preventable hospital admissions.”

Clinical Laboratories Could Provide Services; Earn Revenue

It might seem like science fiction now, but there may come a day soon when chronic disease sufferers can opt to have sensors implanted that monitor their conditions 24/7 and collect data that gets transmitted automatically to primary care doctors and other healthcare professionals.

When that happens, some innovative medical laboratories will likely develop business models for monitoring remote devices and collecting revenue for providing the service. By combining the collected data from those devices with a patient’s lab test data, they could identify for medical professionals when interventions are needed for certain conditions.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

What the Senior and Aging Care Industry Wants from Digital Health Innovators

A Snapshot of Global Innovation in Aging and Senior Care

How to Help Your Elderly Patients Adapt to Healthcare Technology

Community Paramedicine Brings Emergency Care into Patients’ Homes, Could Increase Clinical Laboratory Specimens Collected in These Settings

From Micro-hospitals to Mobile ERs: New Models of Healthcare Create Challenges and Opportunities for Pathologists and Medical Laboratories