Did you know that people who like broccoli likely suffer from a genetic taste defect?
I really believe that genomics will be at the center of most of the big advances in medicine and health over the next 50 years. How this will emerge, who will control the process, and the details are currently being sorted out.
One interesting player in a field dominated by pharma companies, universities, and research institutes is 23andme.com. The for-profit entrepreneurial startup was started by Anne Wojcicki (aka Sergey Brin‘s wife) on the idea of bringing genomics to the masses. Although backed by seriously big hitters, from Google to Stanford, they are catering their products to regular people. Although there has been much pomp and circumstance around the idea of personalized medicine, this is how personalized medicine very well could look.
After recently making a splash by lowering the price of their signature ‘product’ from $999 to $399 (due to incredible cost efficiency advances in the processing technology to analyze DNA), they now can much more feasibly reach the masses. The basic gist of their product is this: 1. purchase the kit, 2. spit in a cup, 3. send the cup to 23 and me, 4. they send it to an outside lab to process, 5. they send you a link with your results. Most of their company is based around the interpretation and presentation of your personal information in a very stylish, easy to understand format. Your results provide you detailed personal information about your genome and its clues to your health and ancestory. The ancestory tool allows you to track (in very raw terms) your ancestoral roots pretty well on the maternal side and to a lesser extent on the paternal side, back hundreds of years or more. The basis of the health information is single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that have been demonstrated in academic research literature to be associated with certain diseases, medical conditions, and abnormalities. They are very clear that nothing is set in stone, the best they can do is probabilities, and the research is emerging. Still, they can tell you that you are more likely to have psoriasis, crohn’s disease, and potentially why you might not like broccoli. In all, there are over 90 conditions they can give you information about, including how well you can smell, your intelligence, and potential longevity.
Critics have called the whole business extremely dangerous and have tried to get companies like 23 and me shut down. They argue that providing such unproven data to consumers is irresponsible, and should not be allowed. They show that many of the ’emerging findings’ and disease associations are later debunked, and providing such info to consumers is dangerous.
This will be an interesting process to watch. I find myself rooting for 23 and me.