Kristine Ashcraft, Genetic Test Expert

 

Kristine AshcraftKristine Ashcraft has a bachelor of science in molecular biology and is currently pursuing her MBA at Babson College. She is the director of sales and marketing at Genelex, a leading provider of paternity and other relationship testing and pharmacogenetic testing that determines drug sensitivity. Genelex Corporation is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks and the New York State Department of Health, is certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA No. 50D0980559), and is Washington State Medical Test Site No. MTS-39190. Kristine has worked at the Genelex DNA Testing Laboratory since 2000.

Is there any preparation required for taking a genetic test?
It depends upon the genetic test. Medical genetic tests that determine disease risk should always be discussed with a genetic counselor or other qualified healthcare provider. However, there are a number of genetic tests that do not require genetic counseling; these include tests to determine parentage and ancestry tests that trace your male and female line back thousands of years. Genelex offers pharmacogenetic testing that can determine a patient’s inborn ability to process over half of the most commonly-prescribed medications. Although medication changes based on these tests can only be made by a healthcare provider, in most states, patients can order testing directly without prior healthcare provider involvement.

What are the steps necessary for taking a DNA sample? What kind of equipment is needed to take a sample?
Your DNA is the same in any cell in your body that has a nucleus so DNA can be obtained from many samples ranging from cheek swabs to blood samples to used Kleenex, bones or even water bottles. Cheek swabs and blood samples are most commonly used for genetic tests. Cheek swab collection kits contain sterile buccal swabs and envelopes.

How accurate are paternity tests?
DNA testing is the most accurate and effective technology available today to determine paternity, but people need to ask informed questions when selecting a lab.

First of all, it is important to know that the number of genetic markers tested and the minimum requirements to release results vary widely from lab to lab. Most labs test eight to 10 markers and only require a paternity index of 100 to prove paternity. This means that one in 100 men have the same genetic pattern as the one found to be the father. At Genelex we test 15 to 23 markers and we guarantee a paternity index of 100,000 if the mother is tested and 10,000 if she is not, making our results 100 to 1000 times more discriminating than other labs. Why does this matter? Experience has taught us that people want all doubt removed from their minds with the DNA testing process, so we have pledged to always apply the most rigorous standards in the industry.

Second of all, it is very important that you only select a lab that is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks, or AABB. Their website has a list of accredited relationship testing labs. People need to verify before they buy; some labs claim to be accredited and are not. New York State Department of Health accreditation is not required, but is a good measure of laboratory quality. The New York State Department of Health has the most stringent requirements in the industry and labs that have passed their inspection process are of the highest caliber.

Third, it is important to select a lab that has experienced staff. Genetic testing is complex and needs to be completed and reviewed by experts and arranged by people familiar with varying state and international testing requirements. Genelex’s lab director has been with Genelex since our inception over 20 years ago and reviews every test we release. Our DNA testing consultants are trained to handle even the most complex cases and are committed to delivering exceptional customer service.

In regard to ancestry DNA testing, which family members should have a DNA test?
Testing of all individuals in a family is not necessary. Men have both mtDNA and Y DNA. Women have only mtDNA because Y is the sex determining gene and is present in males only. For example, a brother and sister will have the same mtDNA and brothers the same Y DNA. Test results apply to everyone in a given male or female lineage.

What type of criteria or certification is required of DNA testing labs? How can a consumer figure out whether a lab is credible or not?
Unfortunately, accreditation is not required for paternity testing, but testing should only be purchased from an AABB accredited lab. New York State Department of Health accreditation is also advisable. For medical genetic testing, CLIA accreditation is required.

What degree of education and training is necessary to analyze a DNA sample?
It depends upon the DNA test, but most accredited labs require that a doctor review all tests and that analysis is performed by technicians with an appropriate four-year degree and relevant experience that varies based on the complexity of the DNA test.

What advice can you give to people who wish to get a DNA test?
My best advice would be to decide what you are trying to learn from DNA testing and then locate an accredited lab that offers the testing and can explain the process in terms you can understand. Also, be prepared for unexpected results. How will you react if a DNA test reveals that your brother is not or that you are not really of Jewish ancestry or that you have a very high chance of developing breast cancer? Who will you share this information with?

Do you have any further comments or suggestions for consumers regarding genetic testing?
Do your research. If a disease runs in your family or you have a history of adverse reactions to medications, there may be a genetic basis for it. The amount of genetic information is expanding exponentially, and physicians cannot be expected to be current on everything. As we start shifting from one size fits all to personalized medicine, patients are going to need to be their own advocates. For example, 10% of women taking tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer recurrence will get no benefit from the drug because they lack the gene that activates it in their body. Yet most physicians do not know about Tamoxitest, a test to determine if you are resistant to this treatment. Patients taking tamoxifen need to ask their physician about this testing. They need to be informed and they need to demand the best care.

For more information on genetic testing, please read our Genetic Test Guide. To locate a test or test provider, please visit our Genetic Test Directory.

 


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