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Genetic Testing for "Athletic Genes"

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Sports Medicine

Genetic testing is becoming available to consumers for many things. Now there is another option - sports performance from online genetic testing companies offering everything from single gene tests to multiplex testing of numerous purported sports performance genes.


As these tests become increasingly and easily available within today's competitive sports culture, physicians need more information on the issue so they can better counsel patients who ask about testing their children.


Alison Brooks, MD, assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, questions the reliability of these tests and whether or not they are appropriate for young athletes.


Dr. Brooks, who is fellowship trained in sports medicine and is also a physician for the University of Wisconsin women's hockey team and played soccer at University of North Carolina on the NCAA winning team with Mia Hamm, has concerns that testing may lead some parents to push their children into sports for the wrong reasons. Other parents might discourage their children if they lack the appropriate genes, such as the currently marketed ACTN3 gene, also known as the "speed gene."


Share This Story"Although the gene is found more commonly in some elite athletes, it is estimated that it predicts only about two percent of a person's speed and power potential," Dr. Brooks says, "and there are so many other non-genetic factors, like coaching and training, that affect sports performance. The true picture of who will be a sports phenomenon is more complicated, just as the larger issue of genetic counseling is."


Dr. Brooks says "we need to advocate for all children to be physically active because it's good for them, not because we want them to play sports at a college or professional level."