In this interview with Anu Acharya, Co-Founder and CEO of MapMyGenome, read all about how her company works with its clients until all their health solutions are found.
What is your organization’s mission?
We aim to help consumers know more about themselves by not just understanding their genetic predispositions but also by helping them correlate it with other factors like lifestyle and other habits that they have—especially diet and nutrition. This way, we can give them recommendations on what they can do to reduce their overall risk of disease and to lead a healthier life.
How does genome mapping work?
Genome mapping is used for two different reasons. One is a preventive purpose that helps you understand your genetic predisposition, even if you might not have a preexisting condition, so you can take precautionary measures. The other is prescribed by doctors when there is a specific condition that needs diagnosis.
We call the first one “personal genomics” for prevention and the second one “clinical genomics” to analyze specific genes that are of interest.
If you want a personal genomics test, you could order it online or get it from one of our partner hospitals. Collecting the sample is relatively painless. There is just a swab that can be shipped back to us in the lab.
When it comes back to us, we then extract the DNA, find genetic variants at specific locations on the genome, and come up with a report. We organize a genetic counseling session and then send you a report that has recommendations of what you need to do beyond that. Our genetic counselors correlate your genetic findings with lifestyle factors and your diet. We give specific recommendations both in terms of diet and nutrition and in terms of exercise. We may also recommend medical consultations as well as screening tests for those conditions.
Do you feel that genomics is well understood by the public?
I think more people seem to know what we are doing, especially after COVID-19. At this point, of course, one of the things that our lab has undertaken is also COVID-19 testing because we are one of the high throughput labs that could do a larger number of samples as well.
It’s a very different set of precautions that you take when you have a COVID testing facility versus a regular genomics facility. But it’s a great thing that now people understand that you can improve your immune system and that, in many ways, you are in charge of your own health.
What makes you different from your competition?
At Mapmygenome, one of our biggest advantages is that people get to spend more than an hour with the genetic counselor and get specific recommendations, which is very helpful for them.
Also, one of the things we did recently was that in April, when COVID-19 was just starting to spread across the world, we came up with the risk and immunity report for our customers. We reanalyzed all the data that everybody had, and as long as they gave us consent to analyze that data again, we gave them back a risk and immunities report, which helped them in understanding how to prepare themselves for this disease. I think that has been our advantage—we are a personal genomics company, but we are much more engaged with our consumers and want to make sure that we can help them by harnessing their DNA
The other thing that we do, which most other companies don’t, is that once our customers have their reports and recommendations, we also work with a few other companies that will help them understand what sort of vitamins are useful for them. We also have a tie-up with a company that does brain assessment. We aim to connect them with whatever we can to help them improve their health.
What do you think are the most important health benefits of using your service?
The most important benefit is that we build healthy habits. If you look at most lifestyle-related diseases like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, most of them are preventable. For example, 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable; 60% of diabetes is preventable. But I think most people just think that genetics is just telling them that if you have the disease in the family then you will get it. But one of the things we tell them is that it’s not true—that genes are a guiding star and not your destiny.
What do you think about the future of this industry?
I think this will become extremely helpful in understanding not just at an individual level, but also at a much larger level, why certain subsets of people are affected by disease differently. If you take the example of COVID-19, one of the things that everybody is trying to understand is whether specific people are likely to have a genetic predisposition that is different than the others.