DNA helix

Helix DNA review – What can whole exome sequencing get you?

Rating based on our Helix DNA review

7 facts from our Helix DNA review

  1. Location: California, USA
  2. Products: DNA testing based on whole exome sequencing; a marketplace for DNA analysis apps
  3. Reports: apps for disease risk and carrier status reporting (with result review by physicians); apps for ancestry, fitness, and diet recommendations
  4. Result delivery: reporting is provided through the individual apps in the Helix marketplace
  5. Raw data access: Helix DNA charges an additional $499 for access to raw DNA data (VCF file)
  6. Cost: sequencing and one app cost at least $144.99; additional apps are then available at reduced price
  7. Alternatives: Nebula Genomics (free DNA data upload; whole genome sequencing for $299), Veritas Genetics (whole genome sequencing for $599 – $3599), Everlywell (biomarkers; $49-$399), CircleDNA ($189 – $629), DNAFit (previously partnered with Helix DNA), LetsGetChecked (biomarkers)

Introduction

This is a review of Helix DNA, a genetic testing and population genomics company, and a marketplace for DNA analysis apps. The company first launched in 2015 with a “sequence once, query often” philosophy. With the Helix model, users submit DNA for sequencing once and have a variety of apps to choose for analysis. The apps analyze your genome for everything from ancestry to heart health. 

Notably, Helix offers health DNA testing in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, whose hospitals consistently rank among the best in the company. Helix also partners with major population health initiatives, like the Healthy Nevada Project. 

Are you interested in sequencing your entire genome? Nebula Genomics offers Whole Genome Sequencing that decodes 100% of your DNA as compared to Helix DNA’s Whole Exome Sequencing (only sequences 1% of your genome)! We also provide new reports every week that are based on the latest scientific discoveries. Learn more!

Helix DNA Sequencing 

The advantage of the app store model is that Helix sequences your DNA only once. Your genome is then analyzed by any of the apps on the Helix platform and results are provided based on your DNA. That means users don’t have to wait weeks for DNA sequencing for each new test. 

The Helix DNA test is called Exome+. It is a whole exome sequencing test, which additionally decodes some non-coding genomic areas of interest as well as mitochondrial DNA. Mutations that cause diseases are mostly found in the exome, the part of the human genome that codes for proteins.

Helix DNA products

True to its promise to be a hub for DNA analysis apps, the Helix store offers the following apps that are available after the purchase of a Helix testing kit. The listed prices include the costs of the initial testing. Additional apps can be purchased at a reduced price. 

AppPriceCompanyDescription
Mayo Clinic Gene Guide$199Mayo ClinicAnalyzes genes associated with 15 common conditions.
GenePrism Actionable Insights$299PerkinElmer GenomicsChecks for 59 genes associated with “medically actionable conditions”.
MyTraits AncestryFree for current usersHelixBasic ancestry reporting provided by Helix directly.
CarrierCheck$250Sema4Checks for 67 inherited conditions.
Prostate Cancer Genetic Risk Score$199NorthShore University HealthSystemDetermines your genetic risk score for prostate cancer.
Women’s WellnessFree for current usersHelixFocuses on 20 conditions that commonly affect women.
Helix WellnessFree for current usersHelixFocuses on traits affecting weight, nutrient levels, and fitness.
My Traits Sport$145IntelliseqFor people who want to know how their genes affect their workouts.
GoalGetter$190Inside TrackerDNA-based nutrition advice (e.g. lactose intolerance).
Diet GENius$145Re:PointWeight loss help.
Heart Start$239WellnessFXHeart health information.
Genetic Counseling$75Genome Medical Genetic counseling sessions up to 30 minutes.

Helix DNA Reports

Review of Helix DNA Mayo Clinic GeneGuide

Unlike other DNA tests, the Mayo Clinic GeneGuide is not entirely a direct-to-consumer DNA test. To use this product, you first have to answer questions about your medical history. A PWNHealth clinician will then approve your order. 

Mayo Clinic will receive your genome data from Helix and examined genes associated with 15 health conditions:

  • Carrier status for Cystic Fibrosis, GJB2-related hearing loss, MCAD deficiency, or Sickle Cell Disease
  • Variants associated with differences in ibuprofen metabolism, malignant hyperthermia susceptibility, omeprazole metabolism, pseudocholinesterase deficiency, atopic dermatitis, alcohol flush reaction, or lactase persistence
  • Risk of atrial fibrillation, age-related macular degeneration, coronary artery disease, or venous thromboembolism

You will get a report breaking down the findings. It starts with an overview:

Mayo Clinic GeneGuide report table of contents.
In this case, the user had no variants identified for any of the conditions. 

The report then goes through each of the four categories: carrier screening, medication response, disease risk, and health traits.

First, there is an introduction to the category. For carrier screening, the report explains that carriers are people with one copy of a gene that harbors a mutation and as a result does not function properly. If both parents carry such a mutated gene, a child has a 25% chance of inheriting a mutated gene copy from each of the parents. In that case, the child would have two copies of a mutated gene and will develop a genetic disease. 

The Mayo Clinic GeneGuide tests for the following conditions:

Carrier Screening summary table from Mayo Clinic GeneGuide report.
Carrier screening results of the Mayo Clinic GeneGuide app.

Next, results for each condition are explained in detail:

Details on Cystic Fibrosis in the Helix Mayo Clinic GeneGuide.
A detailed explanation of a carrier condition in the Mayo Clinic GeneGuide app.

You can also ask questions about your report and receive genetic counseling support through PWNHealth. 

Review of Helix DNA GenePrism Actionable Insights

GenePrism Actionable Insights checks for 59 genes association with “medically actionable conditions.” The genes were chosen by experts from the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics and are also known as ACMG59.

List of genes and conditions Helix GenePrism report checks for.
ACMG59 genes analyzed by the GenePrism Actionable Insights app (1).
List of genes and conditions Helix GenePrism report checks for continued.
ACMG59 genes analyzed by the GenePrism Actionable Insights app (2).

If a pathological variant is found in one of the 59 genes, the report explains the associated risk is and what steps should be taken next. Below is an example, in which the GenePrism Actionable Insights app explains to a user that he has a mutation in the APC gene which increases his risk of colorectal cancer.

Helix GenePrism sample report screen shot.
The app tells the users that a pathogenic variant was discovered in one of the ACMG59 genes.

Next, there is a more detailed explanation of the APC gene, the discovered variant and the associated increase in disease risk.

The Helix DNA GenePrism Actionable Insights app provides more information about the variant and the associated risk.
The Helix DNA GenePrism Actionable Insights app provides more information about the variant and the associated risk. 

Finally, the report recommends which steps should be taken next. In this case, the recommendation is a regular screening for colorectal cancer.

FAQ in the Helix DNA GenePrism Actionable Insights report.
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The GenePrism report also includes a section with common questions and answers

FAQ in the Helix DNA GenePrism Actionable Insights report.
FAQ in the Helix DNA GenePrism Actionable Insights report.

The clinical report that can be downloaded and shared with a doctor. Genetic counseling is also available through Genome Medical, a telegenomics technology, and services company. It employs board-certified genetic counselors who can help users understand the results of their genetic testing. 

Review of Helix DNA MyTraits Ancestry

This ancestry app is available for free after purchasing the Helix Exome+ sequencing kit. It breaks down your ancestry into 26 regional groups by percentage.

Screen shot of type of ancestry reporting Helix DNA provides.
View of the Helix DNA MyTrait Ancestry app.

The report also provides insight into specific adaptations that might have a genetic cause. For instance, it checks for a genetic variant found in people in Tibet which is believed to help them live in high altitudes. 

Helix DNA MyTrait Ancestry app also reports on ancestry-related traits.
Helix DNA MyTrait Ancestry app also reports on ancestry-related traits.

It’s important to note this is a very basic ancestry report. It will not give you information about surname origins, haplogroups or connect you to long lost relatives. Previously, Helix partnered with National Geographic on a ‘genographic project’ and to provide more comprehensive ancestry tests. This DNA kit was known as Geno 2.0. However, it was discontinued in 2019. 

DNA data access

Access to raw DNA data generated by the Helix whole exome sequencing costs an additional $499. For this price, only a VCF file is delivered. BAM and FASTQ files are not provided.

Review of Helix DNA Privacy

While your DNA data is analyzed by partner companies, your saliva sample is collected, processed and the data is stored by Helix. Helix states in its privacy policy, “We believe your genetic information belongs to you.”. However, the practice of charging $499 for raw DNA data access appear to contradict this statement.

Helix won’t share your information without explicit consent. When it receives requests from law enforcement, Helix evaluates them on a case-by-case basis. Helix also promises to always notify you, unless legally prohibited.

Because Helix is a marketplace, your DNA data is shared with other companies, which inherently increases risk. Helix promises to only share the portions of your genetic data and self-reported information that is necessary for the apps to provide their analysis.

Helix allows customers to close accounts, but it won’t remove your information from ongoing or completed research studies. If your data is in use by a research study or an app, you must contact them individually. 

In the News

Helix’s evolution has been covered multiple times by Business Insider. The outlet reported on the company’s initial 2015 launch. In 2018, they wrote an in-depth piece after Helix pivoted away from providing analysis itself and towards building a marketplace for DNA apps.

This piece in a lesser-known publication examines AdventHealth’s partnership with Helix.

Helix is also mentioned in this article in Time about what you can, and can’t, learn from your DNA. 

Helix DNA Reviews 

The Mayo Clinic GeneGuide test has 3 stars on dnatestingchoice.com. The reviews of the Helix DNA Discovery test, which is no longer offered, averaged 2.6 stars on Amazon. The Helix website lists several positive Helix DNA reviews from customers.

Helix’s mentions on Twitter mostly revolve around the company’s involvement in research projects on population genomics. The comments are predominantly positive. 

Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Very affordable whole exome sequencing Limited genealogy reporting
Numerous apps available in the marketplaceMultiple companies involved increase privacy risks
DNA analysis app from Mayo ClinicAccess to DNA data (VCF) costs $499
Genetic counseling included/availableHelix has pivoted away from direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Future support for its products and services appears uncertain. 

Nebula Genomics

In this final part of our Helix DNA review, we will compare Helix DNA to Nebula Genomics and other DNA testing companies.

At Nebula Genomics, your privacy is central. We utilize blockchain and privacy-preserving computing technologies to ensure that your information stays safe and secure. 

With our expanded report, Nebula Genomics offers free genetic analysis for users who already have raw DNA data from AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Users who upload their DNA data will get personalized weekly reports based on the latest genetic research through the Nebula Research Library. 

For users who want to know more, our new 30x Whole-Genome Sequencing is more robust than the whole exome sequencing offered by Helix. The Helix test, Exome+, decodes about 19,000 genes, 300,000 non-coding SNPs and the mitochondrial genome. In contrast, our full genome sequencing reads out over 6,000,000,000 positions in your genome. That is, 100% of your DNA. 

We conclude our Helix DNA review with a comparison between Helix and other DNA testing companies.

  Helix23andMe AncestryDNA Nebula Genomics 
Type of DNA analysisWhole Exome Sequencing + genotypingDNA microarray (genotyping) DNA microarray (genotyping) 30x Whole Genome Sequencing
Privacy-focused No No No Yes (learn more
Free data upload options No No No Yes; Imputation provides expanded report 
Free updates based on new research NoNo No Weekly updates (learn more
Ancestry reporting BasicYes YesDeep ancestry reporting with full Y chromosome and mtDNA sequencing in collaboration with FTDNA
Cost   $145-$299 for the test plus the first app$99, $199, or $499 $99 or $149 $0 – $299

Helix vs 23andMe vs AncestryDNA vs Nebula Genomics

Another alternative to Helix that you should consider is Veritas Genetics which provides diagnostic whole genome sequencing. Furthermore, AncestryDNA was reported to release a health-focused whole exome sequencing test later this year.

Did you like our Helix DNA review? You can find more reviews here!

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