A Conversation With 23andMe’s Arnab Chowdry

This interview is part of an occasional series of profiles introducing you to the people behind 23andMe’s compelling research. In his Arnab Chowdrprevious scientific life, Arnab Chowdry received a   SmileTrain grant for his work with Dr. Simeon Boyadjiev at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital to determine the disease-causing loci for rare genetic diseases such as oculodentodigital dysplasia, which causes abnormalities to many parts of the body particularly the eyes, teeth or fingers.

At 23andMe, Arnab is responsible for designing and establishing the analytical validity of our genotyping chip.

“We don’t just want to learn about genetics. We want to make genetics useful.”

How did you become excited about genetics?

I’ve been interested in genetics since high school. At that time, the human genome sequence was yet to be completed and I wondered why it was such a complicated problem. Being young, I had some very naive ideas about how we could improve the science.

During college, I was involved in research at Johns Hopkins which looked at rare variants. That introduced me to the common frustrations in the field of genetics at that time. There was a lot of noise around the publication of the first human genome, but practically it didn’t help my research. The genome was a draft and the region I was investigating was still largely unknown. To really advance medicine, we needed a faster way to assay mutations than what was available at the time.

After grad school, I came across 23andMe and thought, “if there’s any company that can realize these ideas, this is the one.” I had been in academics for years and had grown used to the hymn of “this new finding could be medically useful, in ten years.” Researchers get grants based around the potential to improve our lives but publications rarely connect their findings to a medical use case.

23andMe is different; we are working to make genetics useful today.

Arnab Chowdry, Sr. Manager of Research Engineering

Originally from: Rochester, NY

BS/A: Johns Hopkins University

PhD: Biophysics from the University of California, Berkeley

Fun Fact: I like building things and breaking things.

Find me at: Arnab Chowdry

Tell us about a recent breakthrough in genetics research that you think will have a big impact.

Next-generation sequencing is the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for. Currently, the genetic testing industry is very segmented. We have individual tests for the conditions we understand, but they’re slow, expensive, and their accuracy is poorly determined. FDA-approved next-generation sequencing won’t replace all genetic tests, but it will commoditize a chunk of the industry, pushing consumers and physicians to evolve.

Reduced cost, improved accuracy and the establishment of new technologies is moving the needle both for clinical testing and research. (23andMe currently does genotyping, which tells customers your genotype at a certain subset of locations in your DNA. Full-genome sequencing tells you your genotype at every position.)

What interesting thing have you learned about yourself from being tested?

Even though I work for 23andMe as a scientist and engineer and I analyze genetic data for a living, up until 2012, my work had always been abstract. I never expected life-altering information to come out of my personal genetics. Then   I found out that I carry a mutation in the MYBPC3 gene that is associated with familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). South Asians that carry this mutation are at greatly increased risk for HCM. Since then, I’ve talked to my family, visited doctors and specialists and changed my exercise routine.

I’ve also worked with other researchers to uncover the biological ramifications of the genetic mutation and presented the findings at a national meeting of geneticists. You can read more about my experience here.

What’s one thing the average person should know about genetics?

People believe genetics to be more deterministic than it is. In fact, there is no “genes vs. environment” debate. Researchers understand that most complex diseases and traits are determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, neither of which should be ignored. If we — and our physicians — can take that view, it will help us to better understand ourselves and improve our lives.

  • TheMatrixDNA

    My suggestion is that Arnaby must search knowledge about the organism as system, as the total different understanding of natural systems suggested by Matrix/DNA Theory’s models. Complex diseases are product of systems as a whole, and Science had stopped the study of natural complete systems 50 years ago. The unique advance comes from the methods of Matrix/DNA, included showing and suggesting a universal formula that Nature has used for organizing matter/energy into working, living systems. The fundamental unity of information of DNA, which is the building block for nucleotides, is itself, a working system, and the organism as a whole, is also a system, but… both are built upon the same template, and these fundamental facts for investigating complexes diseases is still unknown by official scientific academy. This template – which configuration and functioning are suggested by a software/diagram as a functional formula – is the same that produced this whole terrestrial environment and genetics. Do it, go to understanding that Nature has, itself, its own “DNA”, common for each diversification of systems, from atoms to galaxies to human beings, and you will have a new great tool at hands for working. Don’t do it and you will go to same place that we are trying for thousands years, losing the battle against these millenar diseases like cancer, diabetes, etc.: hitting around the bush.

  • TheMatrixDNA

    The image below is a kind of simple working diagram/software as template for a natural perfect closed system. It seems simple but, all lifes’ properties are encrypted here, and, so, all diseases’ causes. Sexual reproduction? Goes to F4, follow to F5, than F1 and F2. How the brain works as system? Put the hyppocampo upon F1 and follow doing it with all brains’ parts. What’s a DNA’s bit-information? Consider F1 as the sugar at the left strand, so, F4 will be the sugar at the right strand. The intermediate functions will be alanine, cytosine, so on. How was built a cell’s system? Put the nucleus over F1, ribosomes upon F3, mitochondrias over F4, RNAm, t, etc., over F5, chloroplasts over F6, lysosomes over F7… and understand the universal meaning of a cell.

    Why the good cholesterol becomes bad cholesterol? making comparisons between the formula and the drawinig of cholesterol cycle, you can identificate the point where an intruder ( as showed at my website) invades the circuit, altering it.

    But,… if you are Astronomer and want to know how Nature built the first astronomical system from a nebulae of atoms, suppose a spherical body made up of light atoms, them put this body upon F2, and following the circuit, you will get a baby-star, a planet, a pulsar, a comet, a supernova, a red giant and arriving at F7, you will get the stellar dust for re-cycling the whole system, producing the nuclear vortex and so on. But… is you are a Physicist and want to understand the real meaning of an atom, put the nucleus upon F1, and follow the circuit composed by fixed waves and electrons jumping layers as F2,F3,F4, etc.

    The best way for beginning to understand the universal natural template for systems is using yours own hands. Put yours left hand with the palm over F1, so, F2 will be the minor, the smaller finger, and so on… understanding how Nature makes new systems and accessories using the same unique template, and how yours hands tell the history of any life’s cycle, because the systemic universal circuit is the template for all life’s cycle also.

    Complexes diseases are product of errors, no well functioning, of organisms as a whole system. Since we have now the formula for a perfect functional system, it will be necessary to get the organism separated into its sub-systems, drawing the state of the circuit of a sub-system, and then, making comparisons with the perfect formula, identifying the points of disruption. Arnaby and every researcher need know this novelty coming from the scientific systemic approach, since that the reductionist approach have proved is not able to eliminate those diseases.

  • TheMatrixDNA

    To blog.23andme: I am not able to insert images here. The image appears while writing the post, but, then, disappears. Any help?