Is 23andMe the the next step toward total self quantification?

File:23andme_logoThe self quantification movement has been around for a while, but with the rise of the smartphone and the mobile revolution that came along with it, we’ve seen an explosion in  the variety of ways you could measure all aspects of your life. A simple stroll down the isle at BestBuy reveals that today’s consumer can, measure their energy expenditure in serveral ways. Some of the popular ones are The FitBit, The Nike Fuel Band, The Up by Jawbone and the list goes on. When smartphones makers all began to incorporate 3D accelerometers into their handsets app makers began to use them to create apps that could track all sorts of movement, and the cycle continued.  The one thing that remains the same is people continue to buy and use these devices, but what are their value? Some devices have a clear value. If you are trying to lose weight and you have a Withings scale to measure your progress, there is a clear correlation between monitoring and success. If you are trying to get a grip on hypertension Withings has a blood pressure monitor that will help you do that as well, and once again the correlation is clear. It is when we get a little further from the simple quantification of things that the question, for what reason are we measuring? becomes a little more ambiguous.

23andMe is a company that was founded  by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and it is the ultimate in self quantification. For just $99 the company will analyse your DNA and tell you what SNPs your DNA contains. SNP stands for single nucleotide polymorphisms, they are small single letter changes in DNA within our chromosomes that we can measure, and sometimes they have been associated with diseases. One of the more famous SNPs are BRCA1 and BRCA2, these have been correlated with breast cancer, as they are more common in women who have the disease. Let’s think about the knowledge that you may have one of these SNPs in your DNA, but in the absence of actual disease, what can you do? Radical surgery? More vigilant examination? The data is unclear on the benefit of knowing this info other than in very specific circumstances, however its usefulness looks promising. This is where most of what 23andMe offers lands. The one thing that they have is data, data about your SNPs and data about you. They have an aggressive research arm that can use their forecasted million plus registered users (now only around 180k) to build a database of actual SNPs coupled with the ability to ask it users questions about their health and disease status. It’s the ultimate version of health crowd sourcing, even if most of the data is not directly actionable by most users. This is something I’m going to watch. Did I try it you ask? Of course I did!

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