23andMe Scientists Head to Montreal for ICHG/ASHG, Eh

The joint 12th International Congress of Human Genetics and 61st Annual Meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics held this week in Montreal is expected to draw more than 7,000 attendees over five days. Joining the throng will be about a dozen scientists from 23andMe.

We’ll be there presenting a wide spectrum of research and perspectives driven by our growing database. Along with findings on hypothyroidism, allergies, and risk prediction for complex diseases, we’ll be presenting several posters at the conference describing various aspects of our database and our research model.

(For a full list of 23andMe’s presentations, click here.)

Who participates in research at 23andMe?

Contributing to research is not typically the motivating factor for people who buy 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service® but it turns out that most are willing to give back to science if you give them a chance. Of the more than 100,000 people who’ve been genotyped through 23andMe, almost 90% have agreed to participate in research and, of those, nearly 90% have answered questions on everything from back hair to Parkinson’s disease.

Senior Geneticist Dr. Joyce Tung will share findings on various characteristics of this “research cohort” during the poster session on Thursday October 13th between 2-3pm with her poster, “Characteristics of an online consumer genetic research cohort.” (#914T)

How do you make a difference in rare disease research?

Studying human disease is often a numbers game, and for rare diseases the odds are stacked against. Getting enough research participants to be able to make meaningful discoveries is a major challenge but 23andMe has shown that our revolutionary online recruitment and research platform can do the job.

Research Project Manager Dr. Emily Drabant will describe lessons learned from analyzing the impact of various recruitment strategies on enrollment into our Parkinson’s disease and Sarcoma research initiatives during the poster session on Wednesday October 12th between 3-4pm with her poster, “Evaluation of recruitment strategies for web-based genetic studies.” (#942W)

Can you use online surveys to gather high quality data on drug response?

Quick poll — can you remember how you responded to ibuprofen (or aspirin, or antidepressants, or antihistamines, etc.) the last time you took it? If you’re taking a prescription medication, do you remember if your dose was ever changed and, if so, how? Just like for diseases, learning more about how people respond to drugs requires getting enough study participants to see meaningful differences. 23andMe’s research platform — where tens of thousands of people answer questions online — can facilitate research in these areas but success hinges on whether people can accurately and consistently recall their medication usage and responses to medication when asked online. By reaching beyond our traditional web-based survey approach to include follow-up phone interviews, we are able to learn from participant questions and incorporate participant feedback into the development of valid drug response questions for pharmacogenomics research.

Research Project Manager Dr. Kim Barnholt will present findings from Phase 1 of our NIH-funded study during the poster session on Friday October 14th between 2-3pm with her poster, “Web-based phenotyping for pharmacogenomics research.” (#1391F)

Not so black and white

Looks can be deceiving, and often DNA tells a story that would otherwise remain lost in time. 23andMe’s senior writer and Content Editor Scott recently wrote about an observation in our database where between 3 and 4 percent of the 78,000 customers who are likely to consider themselves as entirely of European ancestry actually have “hidden” African ancestry. In Scott’s case, learning about these bits of genetic ancestry opened intriguing windows into history, both at the personal level and at the cultural, social, and political levels.

Senior Director of Research Dr. Joanna Mountain will discuss this phenomenon and its implications during the poster session on Wednesday October 12th between 3-4pm with her poster, “Exceptions to the ‘One Drop Rule’? DNA evidence of African ancestry in European Americans.” (#408W)

And that’s not all…

Learn more about the other presentations we’ll be giving here.

You can also follow us on Twitter for highlights from the conference @23andMe or @23science.


  • Glenn Hammonds

    Here’s the abstract for #914T

    The increasing availability of internet access and the decreasing costs of generating genetic information have created a new group of individuals who are active internet users with access to their own genetic information. We hypothesized that these individuals would be interested in sharing their genotypic and phenotypic information for research if given the opportunity to do so by providing data online, thus removing any geographic restriction for participating in a study. All customers of 23andMe, a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, were recruited for an ongoing research project entitled 23andWe. We evaluated consent rate, demographics (including sex, age, education, self-identified race, and genetic ancestry), and research questionnaire response rate in this cohort. Most customers consented to participate in 23andWe, and the majority of those further agreed to have their saliva sample banked and also potentially used for future research. Over half of participants answered at least one research question, with an average of 10 questionnaires completed, and 75 singular “Research Snippet” questions answered. Despite the fact that the majority of customers did not obtain the 23andMe service in order to participate in research, we have found that most are willing to contribute their data for research and that more than half actively contribute additional phenotypic data online, suggesting that tapping into consumer interest in genetics and research is a viable method for conducting large-scale studies.

    I hope the full poster will be posted here after the conference.

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