Microsoft Joins Study to Gauge Impact of Genetic Testing

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Microsoft is co-sponsoring a study to see if people who undergo genetic testing to identify their risk for developing certain diseases actually change their behavior to mitigate that risk.

San Diego-based research lab Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI), the study's main sponsor, will offer genetic scans to up to 10,000 employees, family members and friends of Scripps Health that provide a detailed analysis of their risk for more than 20 health conditions. Scripps Health is a US$2 billion nonprofit community health system also based in San Diego.

The conditions -- including diabetes, obesity, heart attack and some forms of cancer -- are ones that can be changed or prevented by people's lifestyle choices. Scripps will then track changes in the participants' behaviors over 20 years to see if people who learn they are at risk for certain diseases or conditions will actually take preventative measures to avoid them, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is contributing its HealthVault service to the study. HealthVault is Microsoft's online repository for storing patient information and allowing it to be shared, at the discretion of patients, with health care providers and other parties they trust with it, such as their insurance companies. Using HealthVault, study participants can store, track and manage health and lifestyle information over the course of the study, Microsoft said.

Genetic testing service provider Navigenics of Redwood Shores, California, and Affymetrix of Santa Clara, California, which provides hardware and software to do genetic testing, also are co-sponsoring the study and contributing technology to it.

Affymetrix will scan the genomes of participants, while Navigenics will interpret the scan results and offer guidance to study participants to help them prevent future health conditions, or at least lessen the negative impact of them.

The ultimate goal is to help researchers better understand ways to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases, Microsoft said.

HealthVault aims to bridge the gap between enterprise companies, such as health-insurance providers, and patients through an online system that allows them to share information securely over the Web. Competitor Google also is developing a similar offering called Google Health.

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