Your Health

Ahead of the carve: Pass the gravy and discuss family genetics this holiday season, urges local startup


Courtesy of Color Genomics
Color Genomics’ at-home clinical genetic testing kit costs $249. However, to encourage relatives of the original purchaser to test their genes for possible disease-causing mutations, too, additional kits are priced at $50 each.

A genetic testing kit company with local ties is working to refocus Thanksgiving dinner-table conversation to include genetics in the hopes that people will educate themselves, select health care tailored to them and ensure their presence during the holiday season next year and for years after.

A season dedicated to gratitude and family gatherings presents an opportune time to learn more about family health history, according to Katie Stanton, a 15-year Los Altos resident, in an email to the Town Crier introducing Color Genomics, a Burlingame-based private genomics technology company.

The startup has been selling its kits to the public and medical professionals since 2015 in an effort to make testing for genetic predispositions as easy as a quick saliva sample conducted at home.

Stanton, Color’s chief marketing officer, has worked with local residents Tony Wang, Color’s chief operating officer, and Dr. Jill Hagenkord, Color’s chief medical officer, for nearly three years to build the in-home genetic testing service.

Many people have general knowledge about the prevalence of certain diseases in their families, but Color goes a step futher and tests Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recognized genes to determine exactly where potential problems may lie and provides doctors to answer follow-up questions when results come back.

“As families get together this holiday season, many are starting to talk about their true family histories – whether it’s high cholesterol, cancer, heart disease,” Stanton said.

Stanton and Ben Kobren, Color’s head of communications, suggest sticking to the following three strategies when approaching family members about their health histories.

• Ease into it. Try initiating the discussion with one relative at a time, and approach it with a spirit of openness and trust.

• Explain why you’re asking. Talking about health can be awkward. Consider opening the conversation with, “I recently read about how knowing your family health history can help people make better health decisions. Would you be open to helping me learn about our own family’s history?”

• Have your questions ready. Knowing what to ask can help you feel prepared. Know what questions you want to ask, and be ready to answer questions you could get in return.

A Color kit retails for $249, but additional family members may be tested for $50. The discount stems from the historically logistical problem of a lack of follow-through after initial customers talk to their relatives, Kobren said. Studies reveal that only 30 percent of those whose relatives have already used the kit end up ordering one themselves.

Thorough gene screening

Color’s physicians take the samples and extract DNA to test each one thoroughly – its clinical test is much more thorough than the “recreational” tests that became popular seemingly overnight, such as 23andMe or AncestryDNA, according to Kobren.

“Direct-to-consumer recreational tests like those offered by 23andMe and Ancestry, on the other hand, primarily deliver information about ancestry and personal traits,” he said. “23andMe now offers limited reporting on Bloom syndrome and several BRCA genes, but according to the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), the 23andMe tests are neither comprehensive nor medically actionable.”

Color lab physicians screen for genes that identify mutations that could lead to many different types of cancer, heart disease, and even genes related to medication response – or how one would likely react to various FDA-labeled medications.

“If you have one of those genetic mutations, your risk of getting cancer or heart disease is significantly higher, so knowing you have a mutation could save your life, by empowering you to work with your doctor to take action to prevent these conditions, or catch them early while they’re most treatable,” Kobren said.

The concept of finding a mutation that could cause a disease before it hits and the science behind population genomics as a whole has provided an extra level of care for health-care providers that use Color across the nation. UC San Francisco is the closest local provider to use its kits on patients to personalize its care plans.

More than 80 employers are including Color in their health-care benefits. Another 80 companies – including the Bay Area-based OpenTable, Visa Inc. and Salesforce – partner with Color.

With gratitude often comes the desire to give back, and Color sponsors the Color for All initiative, which enables staff to partner with research hospitals and clinics, such as the Stanford Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease, to offer genetic testing to anyone who needs it, regardless of their economic or insurance status.

Donating to Color for All or simply getting tested and electing to allow one’s data to be included in a public database for scientific use is giving back, as it increases the record of mankind’s overall knowledge in the field of genetics, Kobren said.

To donate to Color for All, visit color.com/learn/color-for-all.

For more information on Color Genomics, visit color.com.YOUR HEALTHAhead of the carvePass the gravy and discuss family genetics this holiday season, urges local startup courtesy of color Genomics Color Genomics’ at-home clinical genetic testing kit costs $249. However, to encourage relatives of the original purchaser to test their genes for possible disease-causing mutations, too, additional kits are priced at $50 each.

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