This interview is part of an occasional series of profiles introducing you to the people behind 23andMe’s compelling research. David Hinds spent nine years at Perlegen Sciences, where he was the lead analyst for Perlegen’s genome-wide polymorphism discovery projects. He brings more than 15 years of experience in human genetics to his daily work exploring the complex traits of 23andMe customers.
“Genetics provides a context for understanding your risks.”
What made you excited about genetics?
I started out studying computational biology, and genetics is another way to apply those skills. Today, genetics is interesting to me because it offers a combination of being able to solve unique problems using computational methods and doing interesting science using big data sets.
Tell us about one of your interesting research findings.
I’m very proud of our work with the myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) community. (MPNs are a group of rare blood cancers for which there currently is no cure.) Going into that research, we didn’t have high expectations for making discoveries around this rare set of diseases, but the community has been very successful. We’ve found several new genetic variants associated with MPNs, and there are new follow up studies coming from the community this year.
Education:BS Biological Chemistry, University of Chicago
MA, Biochemistry, Cambridge University
PhD, Structural Biology, Stanford
Post-doc: Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Fun Fact:Through 23andMe, I found out my wife is related to another 23andMe scientist.
The MPN work is particularly interesting because we found something we didn’t expect to find and we’re now able to identify something early that was previously only used to diagnose the condition once symptoms were shown.
We also have several new collaborations underway this year, specifically around allergic disease research. We just published a paper on allergies and hay fever, which is exciting because the 23andMe community is now recognized as the largest allergic disease genotype and phenotype data collection available.
Tell us about a recent breakthrough in genetics research that you think will have a big impact.
Everyone in genetics is watching the falling price of sequencing. While it’s very early to show scientific applications for sequencing applied to understanding complex disease, as more people are sequenced, that research will become even more significant.
What’s one thing the average consumer should know about genetics?
Genetics provides a context for understanding your risk of disease. Your risk also depends heavily on your lifestyle and your life history. In this sense, genetics simply provides a baseline that’s modified by all the other things going on in your life.