As a kid, Brandon Colby couldn’t play tennis without his hand breaking out in blisters just from gripping the racket. Today, a two-block walk on a warm spring day can give him blistered feet.

Colby learned when he was young that his mystifying condition was the result of a rare genetic mutation that made his skin highly sensitive to heat and friction. He became fascinated by genetics, figuring that even if he couldn’t discover a cure for his condition, he might be able to help others. So he became a doctor and an entrepreneur.

He now has something to show for his years of study, research and development. Colby’s West L.A. company, Existence Genetics, is rolling out a genetic test to predict the risk for developing diseases such as cancer and conditions such as cardiac arrhythmia. With early detection, doctors and patients can take measures to reduce risk.

“I always had to sit on the sidelines as a child, but now I want to be at the forefront of the genetic revolution,” said the 33-year-old Colby, whose company is one of a growing number of firms riding the wave of increased interest in a genetic approach to health care. “My genes were causing me a lot of pain and suffering, and I wanted be empowered to take back control and enable other people to do that, too.”

Among Colby’s innovations is a saliva test chip – slightly larger than a stick of gum – that can evaluate DNA at a lower cost than some other methods. He is using it in his practice and has begun making arrangements for other doctors also to use it.

The findings are run through a database to identify the genetic markers for higher risk for melanoma, sudden death from a heart arrhythmia, and other conditions and diseases.

Existence Genetics’ test is in the midpoint of two extremes on the DNA testing scene. On the high end is full-genome sequencing that costs thousands of dollars and is available only at academic research hospitals. On the low end is a recent spate of Internet companies offering cheaper over-the-counter tests that have begun attracting the scrutiny of regulators.

The cost for Colby’s test should run between $400 for a specialized panel for certain conditions to about $900 for a more comprehensive panel that screens for more than 700 diseases and traits.

He also offers the higher-end test as the grand prize for a Facebook page contest. But he insists that testing should be done under a doctor’s supervision and interpretation.


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