New Ideas: Personalized Medicine in the Developing World

muhammadyunus.JPGMuhammad Yunus at his alma mater in Chittagong, Bangladesh

23andMe presented yesterday at the 11th Milken Institute Global Conference, taking place through Wednesday in Los Angeles. The conference has a significant health care focus, with session topics ranging from “Is the Pharmaceutical Well Drying out?” to “What kind of Reform Makes Sense?”

There were also a number of developing world topics, and 23andMe had the pleasure of sitting on a panel entitled “Revolutionizing Health Care and Research in the Developing World,” which included Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance.

While 23andMe is not currently involved in research projects in the developing world, we recognize that it’s important to start thinking about how we could get involved soon. This goes in line with two important goals of the company: actively engaging researchers and individuals from around the world to create truly global research projects and filling in the gaps in research where populations are currently underrepresented.

Type 2 diabetes is a good example. While type 2 diabetes is a significant issue in the US and Europe, it is also a major health problem in South Asia. 23andMe currently looks at nine SNPs that have been associated with type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, the majority of those SNPs have only been studied in European populations — leaving us to wonder what they mean for other groups. 23andMe hopes to undertake global research projects in type 2 diabetes to better understand the genetics in all different populations.

The Milken Institute panel discussion concluded with a proposal from 23andMe to Muhammad Yunus that we collaborate on his new Grameen Health Care Initiatives to develop a project in Bangladesh or India. We strongly believe that by involving populations from around the world we will have a much better understanding of genetics and environment — and that will hopefully bring better health care for all of us.

Photo by Hossain Toufique Iftekher