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23andMe launches breast cancer networking project

Genetic-test start-up will reach out to participants affected by breast cancer or genetically at risk for it. Company mum on whether established research groups will take part.

Genetic analysis start-up 23andMe, known for its star-studded "spit parties" and a controversial investment from Google, announced Thursday the debut of a new initiative to bring together women who have been affected by breast cancer or who may be genetically at risk.

October is the 23rd annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Using its Web-based social network, 23andMe hopes to "reach out to, and build a community around, women who have encountered breast cancer, thereby increasing the scientific understanding of the inherited aspects of a disease that affects 200,000 newly diagnosed individuals per year." Women who purchase the $399 testing kits will have the option to participate in surveys, and the start-up's research arm, called "23andWe," will build a community for the swapping of knowledge, advice, and support.

Representatives from 23andMe said that the project does not yet have any external research organizations as partners, and remains "primarily a social-networking community" at the time. The genetics community has been reluctant to embrace consumer DNA-analysis companies, and the state of California asked 23andMe, along with other companies in the same field, to stop selling tests until they could be fully compliant with health regulations.

At the end of August, 23andMe announced that California authorities had granted it a license to continue selling its tests. In a blog post, 23andMe's founders described the agreement as "only the start of the dialogue between regulators and genomics companies that offer direct-to-consumer services."

This post was updated at 1:04 p.m. PT to clarify the state of 23andMe's negotiations with the state of California.