Here's a question: If you could find out whether you were genetically predisposed to a life-altering disease like Alzheimer's or breast cancer, would you want to know?
The mere thought is enough to terrify some. Yet this is precisely the type of question Anne Wojcicki's innovative start-up 23andMe is interested in. Utilizing the latest genetic mapping technologies, Wojcicki and her team of scientists have created the one of the first successful Consumer Genome companies in history.
In the last two years 23andMe has been able to create one of the largest databases of genetic information in the world -- with "over 30,000 active genomes of participants." The process is simple: Consumers sign up for a $400 genetic self-test kit and provide a saliva sample. After a month-long waiting period they receive a full breakdown of their genetic history, including their disease risk factors.
Wojcicki spoke about the health care implications for 23andMe at the 2009 TED MED conference in San Diego, California.
According to Wojcicki, "the consumer is really under utilized in health care." Whereas academics own hard data, and pharmaceutical companies hold patents to various medicines, consumers are often left without a voice within our health care system. Twenty-three and Me is Wojcicki's answer to this power imbalance. "We need to create something outside of the system that is going to give all of us power to make a difference."
A strong advocate of preventive medicine, Wojcicki sees in 23andMe a means to combat disease before it takes hold. "We want better health care and we want it now," she says. "If there's a drug response and I'm not going to respond well to that drug, I want to know."
Ultimately, 23andMe brands itself as a tool designed to increase patient agency in the face of a massive health care crisis. "We want power outside of the health care system," Wojcicki says. "That power is being able to say 'I want my genome,' and 'I want to connect with other people's genomes about specific diseases.' That's 23andMe."