Today, I received in my email inbox a questionnaire from Ancestry.com asking about my thoughts in using my family tree to study family health history. I recently wrote an article that touched on the use of genealogical data in conjunction with genetic studies for the APG Quarterly. In this article, I talked about how the Utah Population database was started as the result of a joint collaboration between the LDS Church and scientists at the University of Utah. This database is unique in that it links detailed family history information with genetic data to allow scientists to study the inheritance of many diseases. Many significant genetic discoveries have been made as a result of this database, including the famous (or infamous) BRCA1 and 2 genes. It is a significant resource for those interested in studying the inheritance of genetic disease. More about the Utah Population Database and the role of genealogical information can be found here: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/science/utah/
Just as in genealogical research, DNA is of little value without a paper trail. Significant value and power lies in combining detailed family health histories with genetic data. In my opinion, 23andMe has missed a significant opportunity to link family histories with genetic data and make ground-breaking discoveries. From this survey, it appears that Ancestry.com/AncestryDNA recognizes the value of this information and that they may be considering getting into the business of supplying their customers with heath related information the way 23andMe did prior to November 2013. It would appear that they are constructing a database very similar to the Utah Population Database with SNP data generated from the Illumina Chip they currently use.
I have a few questions about this:
- Will AncestryDNA now be subject to the same FDA guidelines that are currently prohibiting health information from 23andMe, and if so, will Ancestry join the effort with 23andMe to allow this type of information to be provided to consumers?
- Or, will they ride 23andMe's coat-tails into the health side of the personal genomics market? Will Ancestry re-sell this data to large pharmaceutical companies?
- How can we participate in this research, and should we as customers be participating?
There are many other questions I could ask, and in the end, I do believe that health care needs a serious overhaul and the revolution that Anne Wojcicki started with 23andMe cannot be stopped now. I believe one of the best ways to revolutionize health care is to understand what our individual genetic code is telling us about future disease risk, how to manage that risk and prevent disease if possible. It appears from the questions on the Ancestry survey, that they recognize the power of this information as well, and that they plan to move into the space currently occupied only by 23andMe.
Screen shots of the email and survey follow:
Thanks to Angie for sharing this update and important information with my readers!