Growing up, Angel Rich, whose father was adopted, always believed she was Dominican. She was raised in a household that spoke Spanish – she even minored in the language in college.
But her 23andMe reports told another story. Her background revealed primarily African heritage, with a smattering of European and Asian ethnicity.
First came the surprise. “Having been told that I was Dominican my whole life, it was kind of a shock,” she said.
Then, came acceptance. “Yet it was also a relief to know where I came from…I had always been drawn to African culture.”
And later, curiosity. “I’m a researcher, so I wanted to understand why I had ancestry that was coming from places like Nigeria, the Congo, and Cameroon…and then I learned that the Fula people had traveled through all these places.”
So in 2018, Angel Rich traveled to several countries in Africa, tracing the migration of her ancestors, the Fula people – one of the largest ethnic groups on the continent. “I wanted to learn more about my background,” she said. “The whole thing is fascinating to me.”
Angel shared her story during “23andYou,” the first-ever community conference for our customers. The three-hour virtual event brought over 1,000 attendees together to learn more about the 23andMe experience.
Participants were able to learn more about our ancestry, traits, and Health reports, discover new research initiatives underway, as well as to hear stories from customers like Angel. The event also included several Q&A sessions with product scientists, researchers, and other experts.
Empowerment and partnership
Empowerment and partnership were key themes of the day. In a fireside chat, CEO Anne Wojcicki spoke about her desire “to do something where I’m truly empowering people,” and stressed the importance of partnership. “You have to have true engagement with your customers and you have to treat them like a partner,” she said.
One example of the power of that partnership can be seen firsthand in 23andMe’s therapeutics program, explained Principal Clinical Scientist Sophia Majeed during an afternoon breakout session.
“Therapeutics research and the consumer groups are all interconnected. Our consenting customers power the flywheel that enables discoveries that benefit them and help further our understanding of science.”
Sophia discussed the origin of 23Me-00610, a new experimental cancer drug that is now in clinical trials and was discovered using insights from data provided by consented research participants.
“We’ve just started our journey in clinical trials, and we have a long way to go,” she said, “but I often think about our research participants who started by filling out surveys about themselves, which led to the insights that allowed us to identify this potential target for cancer and develop this investigational drug that we’re now testing.”
The conference ended with a lively Q&A session and brief closing remarks from Anne.
“[This] was a really important event for me,” she reflected. “23andMe is entirely built upon empowering individuals. The hope of this meeting is to give you greater insights into your genetics, whether it’s on the ancestry or the health side, so you really can use this genetic code and this incredible knowledge to have a better life.”