This interview is part of an occasional series of profiles introducing you to the people behind 23andMe’s compelling research. Meghan Mullins, a research assistant, previously did work on obesity and diabetes among the Pima Indians in Arizona. Here at 23andMe, Meghan works with our cancer and Parkinson’s research initiatives. She also ensures that the research we do adheres to ethical guidelines.
“People are excited about the research we’re doing because we’re making it so accessible.”
What were you researching before you came to 23andMe?
Before I started working at 23andMe, I spent two years with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health. I worked in the genetics lab studying obesity and diabetes in Pima Indians.
What’s your job at 23andMe?
I’m a Research Assistant at 23andMe, so I work on our research initiatives for Parkinson’s and cancer where we study the associations between genetics and disease. I also create protocols for our studies and work with our Institutional Review Board to protect the rights of research participants. And I helped spearhead the recruiting efforts for our African Ancestry project.
Originally from: Norman, OK
BA: Human Biology from Stanford
Why are you excited about genetics?
I accidentally ended up in genetics, but I really enjoy it. Because it’s a relatively new field in biology, the pace of research is very fast.
For example, the most comprehensive genetic research to date has been on people of European descent. We don’t really know how that applies to people with other ethnic backgrounds because the research hasn’t been repeated to include them. That’s why I’m excited about what 23andMe did with our Roots Into the Future project, a research initiative addressing the African American community. We’re closing the gap to include more people with African descent in genetic research, and we’re generating knowledge that will help people with more diverse backgrounds in the future.
Tell us about a recent breakthrough in genetics research that you think will have a big impact on the industry.
I’m interested in a recent European study about gene therapy for Parkinson’s Disease. They’re testing a new gene therapy and while very preliminary, results have shown that patients were able to come off of dopamine replacement medications without the temporal flux of other Parkinson’s drugs.
It’s something that most people know, but have a hard time applying: who you are is a function of your genetics and your environment. When people see the results of genetic tests, they often forget about the environmental factors like where and how you live. It’s really all these elements coming together that make you who you are.
What interesting thing have you learned about yourself from being genotyped?
I have a tiny percentage of sub-Saharan African DNA, which could be from my Cherokee background. I also learned that I carry the “redhead gene” – and while I currently live my life with red hair, it’s naturally brown.
In general, my 23andMe results inspired me to commit to more regular exercise given how much risk that contributes to any given condition. In fact, I have been running regularly and was able to lower my cholesterol by about 30 percent.