The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) says that cheap genetic tests ordered online are like everything else purchased that way – sub-standard, unhelpful and likely misleading.

Genetic tests are getting popular for many different purposes, with services for parentage, ancestry, or even genetic pre-disposition now readily-available

It will not be long until it is commonplace for a person to have their entire genome sequenced, so they have a full copy of their DNA for medical purposes.

But many eager early-adopters are presented with essentially useless information - either incomplete or irrelevant - for a range of genetic tests including full sequencing.

The NHMRC has put out new publications recommending Australians exercise caution when ordering direct-to-consumer genetic tests.

NHMRC CEO Professor Warwick Anderson said the resources offered valuable advice and hoped they would help Australians make informed decisions about purchasing such tests.

“Given phenomenal advances in genetic technologies, more and more companies are offering direct-to-consumer genetic tests. These are being taken up by an increasing number of people who are curious about their ancestry or interested in learning about their predisposition to certain health conditions,” Professor Anderson said.

“However, consumers should be aware of the implications of using genetic tests which may preclude the advice or involvement of their doctor,” he said.

“Direct-to-consumer genetic tests are often offered by companies based overseas which may not meet Australian standards for quality and reliability for medical laboratory testing.

“Consumers should be cautious about the accuracy of some of these tests and be mindful that while genetic testing may offer an indication of predisposition to a particular health condition, results should not be treated as a definitive diagnosis.

“Ultimately, the NHMRC advises that consumers exercise caution and consult their doctor or a genetic counsellor to understand the potential risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing, or how to interpret the results of a genetic test,” Professor Anderson said.

The documents, prepared by the NHMRC’s Human Genetics Advisory Committee, are available through its website, here.