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23AndMe Launches Program to Collect More Health Data From DNA Test Customers

DNA testing company 23andMe is looking to entrench itself in the healthcare industry further. Having already amassed and a huge database of DNA profiles, it is eager to gather more health data from its millions of users.

The company is expected to collect a user’s medical history, prescription information, and lab results.

You’ll have the chance to submit these details after receiving your DNA results. Initially starting as a beta program, the service will gradually roll out to all of its clients.

Having sold nearly 10 million at-home DNA testing kits, 23andMe hopes to become a more inclusive health tech startup.

The health data sector already has established players such as Apple’s Health platform. Big data companies like IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are also eyeing the lucrative niche.

23andMe is unique because it already has a treasure trove of genetic information. By complementing it with health data, the company could control medical resources on a scale that other players can only dream of.

Potential applications

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Unlike other DNA testing companies that focus on ancestry, 23andMe stands out for its pioneering medical research initiatives. Its DNA database has already been referenced in more than 100 peer-reviewed publications.

The company has also established critical genetic links to various conditions, including cancer, menstrual cramps, and chronic pain.

Its data has been useful in studying genetic variants that are more likely to trigger risky behaviors such as speeding, casual sex, smoking, and drinking.

The FDA doesn’t encourage using the company’s DNA results as a basis for professional treatment. Nevertheless, many patients have benefited from the insights offered by 23andMe’s Health & Ancestry Test.

The company claims 30% of consumers who used direct-to-consumer (DTC) DNA-testing kits shared the results with healthcare professionals. The intention was to provide a deeper understanding of their wellbeing.

By knowing which medical conditions their genetic makeup predisposes them to, users can take measures to either prevent or manage them. The most significant outcome of this program could be breakthroughs in improved treatment methods or outright cures for serious conditions.

Collaboration with Human API

23andMe health test

23andMe once had a robust API program. It allowed third-party apps to build on their database and provide helpful medical healthcare services to their users. Last year, the company ended this partnership.

The reason given was privacy concerns.

Although the API program enabled access to its database, users would be treated according to the third-party app’s terms and conditions. If the app wasn’t strict about safeguarding consumer details, 23andMe had little power to enforce stricter compliance.

As part of its new health data push the company has partnered with, the country’s largest health data network.

This will allow 23andMe’s users to willingly and securely submit their health data for detailed evaluation.

Potential benefits of the new health data program

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On the face of it, this program is bound to result in game-changing medical innovations. 23andMe already acts as a source of crucial research data for pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare stakeholders.

It takes up to a decade, and billions of dollars in R&D to successfully take a single drug from discovery to market. Many other attempts fail. By utilizing 23andMe’s meticulous database, drug companies can save a lot of time and money.

A deeper understanding of genetic makeup, combined with relevant health data, could lead to vaccines or cures for some of the most difficult medical conditions.

Concerns about data safety

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Being a privately held company, 23andMe is not as forthcoming with information as publicly regulated organizations. Its privacy policy is worrying, no matter how hard it reassures its users.

The company has also been accused of collecting DNA with ulterior motives.

Increasingly lucrative partnerships with Big Pharma show it could be more concerned about making profits than safeguarding user privacy.

The company could also be acquired by investors only interested in its treasure trove of genetic and health data. In such circumstances, consumers wouldn’t have a say on how their data should be used.

DNA testing companies have already been criticized for sharing user data with law enforcers, insurers, and third-party software developers. The more health data 23andMe integrates into its services, the more attractive it becomes too interested entities.

In worst-case scenarios, malicious actors could simply breach their database and publicly release the information.


Genetics Help to Predict Diseases

23andMe’s deeper push into the health data industry presents a positive opportunity for medicine. It also raises some worrying questions about the company’s real objectives. If everything works as advertised, the resulting medical breakthroughs could change the healthcare industry for good.


About the Author Charles M.

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