Genetic Future

Mark Henderson’s interview with Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of personal genomics company 23andMe, is well worth a read. The big story is this: Wojcicki has floated the possibility of offering discounted genome scans to clinicians “to teach them to interpret genomic information that is now readily available to their patients”.
Wojcicki explains:

“Clearly we need to engage with physicians to help them to understand this information,” she said. “One of the things we’ve talked about is we’d love to get physicians comfortable with their own genomes first, have them understand what does it mean, explore the data, see what does it look like, and then go to work with their patients.

“I think that’s probably the way to do it. Physicians should be genotyped. We are talking about ways we could potentially do that. It’s important for physicians to understand what the experience is like; 23andMe is going to start putting more effort into educational material.”

I’m not convinced that this will have a huge effect on genomic literacy among clinicians, mainly because most doctors lack the time and the motivation to thoroughly explore their own personal genomic data, and because the view of personal genomics as a frivolous affair is reasonably well entrenched among the clinicians I’ve spoken to (and to be fair this view is not without merit given the current state of the science). 

Nonetheless, there’s no question in my mind that doctors who have had a genome scan done and have made an effort to engage with their own data will be far better prepared for the approaching onslaught of medically relevant genomic data. They might even learn something about the most effective way to present probabilistic risk information to a lay audience, a challenging task that 23andMe does exceptionally well.
This move may be part of a broader policy of engagement with clinicians by the personal genomics company. There is a subtle shift in Wojcicki’s tone from the “we’re not doing medicine” tone that has long characterised 23andMe’s attitude:

Ms Wojcicki said that it would be especially important for companies like hers to work with doctors to interpret genomic information, as the costs of DNA sequencing fall further. 

Wojcicki is right, of course: as large-scale sequencing starts to become affordable, personal genomics will move ever further into the realm of the rare variants with large effects on disease risk that are likely to have the biggest impact on clinical practice. It makes sense to start engaging with the medical community before that transition takes place.
There are other signs of change afoot within 23andMe. Most of you will know that the second co-founder of 23andMe, Linda Avey, recently left the company to start up a foundation devoted to Alzheimer’s research. But more importantly, prior to that both Avey and Wojcicki recently changed their photos on 23andMe’s website; instead of the rather vivid pink wardrobe they both sported for the last two years both are now dressed in sombre black:
i-57a379b595c30c44a1f6456e95fe08da-anne+linda_pink-to-black.jpg
Does the wardrobe change herald a more serious and medical-minded tone for 23andMe? Have I jumped the shark by writing about Linda and Anne’s wardrobe decisions? Time will tell.

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Comments

  1. #1 Luke
    September 15, 2009

    Genetic Future: The Hello Magazine of genomic medicine.

  2. #2 Sigmund
    September 15, 2009

    Clearly black is the new black.

  3. #3 phisrow
    September 15, 2009

    Luckily, the “producers of medical products and/or services giving free stuff to doctors” game never results in conflicts of interest.

  4. #4 Steven Murphy MD
    September 15, 2009

    @phisrow LOL, very true.

    @Daniel,
    This is no suprise and doesn’t represent the brilliance of Anne WoJits. Mike Christman recruited physicians heavily in the first stages of the CPMC. He knew this was how to get doctors engaged. Unfortunately, most still don’t know what the hell this stuff means. Also, they had to be convinced by giving it for free, to an institution with an IRB and research aims defined.

    I challenge you to a randomized presentation of 23andme data to the lay public versus a genetic counselor versus SNPedia….Whaddya say?

    @Sigmund, I agree Black is so 2001, which is about where doctors are right now…….

    But what none of you noticed was me suggesting 23andSergey go to London last week and now…..Whoomp, there it is…..

    http://thegenesherpa.blogspot.com/2009/09/this-just-in-23andme-to-go-to-gps-i.html

    -Steve

  5. #5 Matthew Markus
    September 15, 2009

    I love the new-style 23andMe Kremlinology. Note that Linda Avey is now wearing dangly earrings which I interpret to mean that 23andMe intends to drop association studies in favor of linkage analyses.