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23andMe says gene report can detect the risk of type 2 diabetes

There are concerns about the test's accuracy and utility.
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Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

23andMe is betting that its gene testing kits can help identify another major health risk: diabetes. The company plans to offer a report that identifies your genetic predisposition toward type 2 (that is, adult onset) diabetes. Unlike the company's earlier reports, the test provides a polygenic score based on gene variant research data from roughly 2.5 million customers, 70,000 of which reported diabetes -- it's not relying on any public information. Ideally, this would help you change your diet and habits to reduce the chance of developing diabetes.

The company is partnering with Lark Health to offer the company's $20 per month AI health coaching service to customers who are at risk of developing diabetes. The report will be available to gene testing kit buyers starting March 11th, 23andMe said.

Whether or not it helps is another story. Experts talking to MIT Technology Review noted that polygenic scoring methods aren't extremely accurate at this stage, even though they've improved considerably since 23andMe dropped many of its health tests in 2013. While the company says its diabetes test is accurate for black, Asian and Latino customers, polygenic score predictions have historically produced worse results for non-Europeans.

There's also the nature of diabetes itself. There's no singular, guaranteed genetic signal that you're at risk, and those external factors like diet and lifestyle can make a large difference. If you already eat well and stay fit, the test won't change much. Still, this is a rare opportunity to gauge your susceptibility to diabetes at home. If nothing else, it could encourage you to visit the doctor.

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