Sport test alert for pushy parents

Caution on predictive genetic process

By G.S. Mudur
  • Published 18.11.15

New Delhi, Nov. 17: An international panel of medical specialists has recommended against predictive genetic testing of children or young athletes for their sports prowess amid concerns about the growing popularity of such tests in several countries, including India.

The predictive value of these tests is "virtually zero", and the scientific evidence for the tests' effectiveness to make any reliable predictions is too weak to justify their use, the panel of 22 specialists from the fields of genomics and sports medicine has said.

The panel published its "consensus statement" on Monday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Some diagnostic companies in India offer such genetic tests to assess the suitability of children to pursue specific types of sports. A Hyderabad-based company that began offering sports genetic testing a year ago says it has so far processed around 100 genetic samples.

Among the samples tested, a company official said, was one from a three-week-old child whose parents wanted to determine which type of sport the child could be best suited for - power sports, endurance sports, or both types.

The panel, led by Alun Williams, the director of the sports genomics laboratory at the Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, has cautioned that despite the lack of evidence, the market for direct-to-consumer tests claimed to predict children's sports or athletic talents has grown.

"We don't think any major decision on whether to and which sports to opt for should be based on the results of these tests," Williams told The Telegraph in a telephone interview. "It's almost meaningless to test very young children."

The panel's survey suggests that the number of companies providing direct-to-consumer genetic tests has nearly doubled from 22 in 2013 to 39 in 2015. While eight of the 22 appear to have ceased operations, 25 new companies have emerged over the past two years, the panel said.

These direct-to-consumer tests are intended for parents, coaches, athletes or individuals - anyone who is prepared to pay for the test and send a sample of saliva or inner cheek smear, hoping to get a document on the genetic predisposition for success.

An executive with an Indian company said the test it offers looks for three variants of a gene called ACTN3. "One variant of the gene is associated with capacity for power sports, the second variant with endurance sports, the third predicts capacity for power and endurance sports," the executive told this paper.

Power sports demand strong movements performed at high speed, such as sprinting, or shooting in football, or smashing in tennis, while endurance sports involve prolonged activities such as a marathon or a triathlon. But a game of football or tennis requires a combination of both power and endurance.

Indian companies appear to charge between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000 for the test, an industry executive said.

The experts have also raised concerns about the psychological impact of sports gene testing.