Ten years ago, BuzzFeed news reporter, Peter Aldhous was working for New Scientist magazine when he published an investigation into HGC’s prenatal paternity test.
HGC is a company in Toronto called the Health Genetic Center (HGC), also known as the Prenatal Genetics Center.
“The DNA testing industry is largely unregulated. In the US, Canada, and other countries, companies are allowed to sell DNA tests without going through the approval process required for prescription drugs or medical devices,” Aldhous states.
In addition, they are not required to provide any scientific data confirming that a new test, be it used for medical diagnosis or to prove paternity actually works as advertised.
“If a DNA test is used to prove paternity in court, then a lab will need accreditation from a body such as AABB, formerly the American Association of Blood Banks, which provides some quality control. But what’s sometimes called “peace of mind” paternity testing, done outside of a legal setting, is a free-for-all that potentially puts unsuspecting customers at risk.”
Based on the results received, DNA paternity tests can change lives as couples may decide if they should stay together or split. A child can gain a father or lose one depending on the news. A woman could also decide to terminate her pregnancy if she so chooses.
“If a pregnant woman wants to take a paternity test, the conventional approach is to sample cells from the fluid or tissue surrounding the fetus, which carry its DNA. That profile is then compared to DNA from cells swabbed from the cheek of a possible father,” Aldhous states.
But the issue lies in the accuracy of the invasive procedure, Aldhous reveals.
“The problem is that the invasive procedures needed to sample fetal cells have a small chance of triggering a miscarriage. HGC’s test, by contrast, promised to give an answer by safely drawing blood from a pregnant woman’s arm.”
But what Aldhouse found most disturbing was just how many customers who had been given paternity test results from HGC that were contradicted by labs with the accreditation to perform court-directed paternity tests.
Despite Aldhous making a libel case that “…HGC was marketing a flawed test giving unreliable results that had devastating consequences for some of its customers,” his efforts were refuted when he lost due to having no evidence.
But Aldhouse has not given up and continues to educate others on the company’s flawed procedure.
“The harm suffered by customers of HGC and its brokers who have received incorrect test results can’t be undone. What’s needed, to prevent this happening again is a regulatory system that treats DNA tests more like drugs or medical devices.”
Aldhouse goes on to share what he believes needs to be done so no future families are scarred by such unethical and irresponsible business practices:
“Accreditation and quality testing for labs that sell genetic tests to the public should be mandatory. And before a novel test can be put on the market, its validity should be established through rigorous scientific trials.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.