Anne Wojcicki is nothing if not passionate. During a talk this morning at Stanford's Medicine X conference, the CEO and co-founder of personal-genetics company 23andMe outlined one of her reasons for starting the company - "I couldn't just change health care from within" - and discussed her strong belief that all of us, as patients, own our genetic data.
"Why would you want your DNA?" she asked. "Because your DNA is a data file" - and, she went on to argue, an important one at that.
Wojcicki outlined some of the things that people have discovered by doing genetic testing through the company: 20 percent found they have an elevated risk of Alzheimer's disease, 8.2 percent face an increased risk of blood clotting, and 5.6 percent learned they have a higher-than-normal chance of developing macular degeneration. Armed with knowledge like this, Wojcicki explained, patients can take certain steps and make potential lifestyle changes to help protect themselves.
She used a personal tale to illustrate her point: Not long after her husband was tested and learned he had a gene mutation that elevates his risk of developing Parkinson's disease, the two came across research suggesting the possible protective benefits of coffee. After that, she said, the couple began consuming a lot more cups of joe.
"We could put ownership on this," she told the audience. "We could do something to potentially prevent Parkinson's."
During a Q&A session following her talk, which was part of the emerging-technologies theme of the conference, Wojcicki discussed roadblocks to what she and her colleagues are trying to do. Among them: Not everyone is sold on the idea of personal genetic testing, and not all physicians know what to do with the information brought to them by their patients. "The [health-care] system is not set up to be receptive" to the knowledge gained by patients through testing, she acknowledged, and she suggested that physicians be rewarded for preventing - not just treating - illness.
"We need to find a way for people to make money off you not getting sick," she said.
Previously: Susannah Fox talks skinny jeans and self-tracking at Stanford Medicine X kick-off, Anne Wojcicki on the benefits of crowd-sourcing science and DNA sequencing and Bioethicist “spits” on personalized genomics
Photo by StanfordMedX
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