The enticing appeal of “the quantified self” centers on the idea that if we knew enough about enough factors for enough individuals, we could discover all sorts of useful insights into how we can help people stay healthy. Pool all that information into one Big Data set, and let analytic algorithms search out the correlations. In order to be most useful, you need to gather all sorts of information about medical history and biometric readings. And it would be great if you had some genetic information while you’re at it.
That’s what’s happening in a landmark community health study by Nevada’s Renown Health and the Desert Research Institute (DRI). The interesting wrinkle in this study is that they are collaborating with 23andMe, the personal genetics company. The study is recruiting qualifying Nevada residents, and each will receive an individual 23andMe genetic report at no cost. The report covers health, traits, and ancestry information.
By combining individual genetic information with personal health histories, environmental database, and population data, researchers hope to get a better understanding of the relative impact of genetics and environmental conditions on the health and wellness of the subjects. The study was launched with a target of 5,000 subjects, but these slots were filled within 24 hours of the announcement about the program. The response was so overwhelming that the researchers doubled the sample size to 10,000. This level interest is unprecedented. According to Anne Wojcicki, founder and CEO of 23andMe, “Treating people like partners in research and returning information back to participants is an incredible tool for driving participation and engagement.”
This ambitious project demonstrates that many individuals are eager to share their personal data in order to advance medical research. With luck, this study will yield useful conclusions that in turn will encourage others to conduct similar programs.