Within the chapter of personal genomics, we are going to talk by videoconference to Joanna Mountain She has been assistant professor at Stanford University, California, until 2007, when she moved to the company 23andMe, where she is Senior Director of Research. Joanna is responsible for overseeing research projects, ensuring the potential of research participants and developing ancestry products offerings. In this interview with Joanna we are going to focus on the interest of personal genomics, and how companies like 23andMe deal with both ancestry and health analysis, and which are the main challenges they face. Joanna, 23andMe offers personal genomics service, individualized and unsupervised. Why is 23andMe offering this service, and why do consumers want this kind of information?
Ok, I think I will go back in time to answer that, because maybe the answer changes over time. But, to begin with, in 2006 the founder of the company Anne Wojcicki, had a strong desire to improve genetics research, because she saw all these studies that where very small conducted with, you know, three hundred people, three hundred cases, four hundred cases, and they were underpowered.
So she thought: what if we can develop a way to have much larger studies? And… so, 23andMe was a vision with sort of two sides of a coin, where you have the research on one side, and the product that goes to consumers on the other side, and they support each other.
So, the question, the big question, even for me then, was: will the consumer be interested in getting their own genetic information? So, it was a little bit of an experiment, we didn’t know the answer, right away. Because, you know, if you’re trying to get government funding for genetics research was challenging. But in this way, we would have consumers who could, you know, not only pay and get a wonderful service, but also contribute to research. And that was the key. And the experiment was very successful. To the point of now, having, you know, five million customers at 23andMe. And so… and that’s in, you know, just the ten past years. Yeah, that’s really incredible. So, there are then two different aspects.
By one side, let’s say this research, social, genetic side… And the other one is to know my individual data. To which extent people are interested in one or the other? We’ve… found… well, people seem to be very interested in their own. I mean. And this I know anecdotally, as well as (you know) from surveys we’ve done. But even anecdotally, people really get engaged, especially with the reports that resonate with them. They feel like they have some truth to them based on their own experience. And that… So, we’ve seen that again, and again, and again. And also, so in terms of the research, we can say that we have, you know, people answering millions of questions.
And that shows their enthusiasm for the research site. So our hope is that by engaging them with their personalized information, we encourage them to take part on, in the research that has enabled us to publish over 80 papers in peer review journals, right.