Your DNA, Decoded: 23andMe and Predictive Medicine

The December issue of Wired, on newsstands next week, has a story I've written on the debut of genomic medicine, via 23andMe, the much-anticipated startup. The story is now up here on Wired.com. I was fortunate enough to get an up close look at the inner workings of 23andMe, shadowing company founders Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki (shown here) off and on over the course of the past few months. The story, though, isn't just about the company as another Silicon Valley startup. I was especially interested in the challenge they face in turning the very raw science of genetic discovery into a consumer friendly, retail service. Given that research into genetic associations is still quite early, and given that the medical establishment is just barely on the case, it's an especially compelling story about how individuals will be responsible for learning a huge amount in order to make sense of - and take advantage of - the genetic information 23andMe offers.

Readers of this blog will know that I was especially interested in how the company plans to use the pool of genetic data from its customers. While maintaining all privacy, 23andMe will be tapping the data for further genetic research, particularly towards orphaned diseases that are not presently the subject of much research.

There were, alas, some things I had to leave out of the story, particularly a discussion of George Church's Personal Genome Project (which I plan to return to in a later story), or a discussion of GINA and privacy regulations. Wired.com has a nice update to that story in a sidebar here. Wired.com also has a clip from an interview Linda and Anne did with Wired Science, our TV show with KCET on PBS. That episode airs this coming Wednesday.

There are a couple gems in the story - a tidbit about how the company plans to move into whole genome sequencing, and other details. There's also an easter egg of sorts in how the story is laid out in the physical magazine, that's not evident in the online version. I'm very curious to see if anybody spots it.

The debut of 23andMe and its competitors, DeCodeMe and Navigenics (and surely there are more out there about to pop up) marks a very significant inflection point in our society. Predictive medicine is now not just a theoretical possibility that we should prepare for; it is very much a reality, available for just $999 (or, a bit more crassly, for DeCodeMe's "introductory promotional price" of $985).

There is a lot we still need to do - more science, certainly, but also more introspection, as a society, for what's around the corner, and more planning, in the health industries, for how this should be handled. But on the whole, I have to say I think it's a very good thing.

Please let me know what you think of the piece - either here or in comments at the story.