Friday Aug 25, 2023

#251 Diversifying Genetic Research with 23andMe

Currently, an overwhelming number of DNA samples used for research are from people of European ancestry, making many populations from across the globe underrepresented in genomics research. (NHGRI) In this episode, we explore an important issue in healthcare, diversifying genetic research, with two experts from 23andMe


Dr. Ruth Tennen is a product scientist at 23andMe. In this role Dr. Tennen develops new genetic health reports with the goal of helping 23andMe customers access, understand, and benefit from the human genome. Before joining 23andMe, she served as a science policy fellow at the State Department, helping promote science education and entrepreneurship in Africa, and as a lecturer at Stanford, teaching courses on experimental design, bioethics, and cancer. Ruth loves learning about and talking about science, and throughout her career, she has worked to inspire budding scientists by mentoring and teaching students at local schools, hospitals, and museums. Ruth received her bachelor's degree in molecular biology from Princeton and her Ph.D. in cancer biology from Stanford.


Dr. Anjali Shastri is a Senior Program Manager at 23andMe. A research scientist by training, she manages programs that increase access to genetic testing, improve representation in genomic studies, and further impactful genetics research (like 23andMe's 1 million-participant COVID-19 Study), so that more people can benefit from 23andMe's health and ancestry products, services, and research. Previously she worked at the U.S. Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Academy of Sciences, advancing science-based policies and coordinating global health projects. Anjali received her PhD in Immunology from Stanford University where she was a Diversifying Academia and Recruiting Excellence fellow and National Science Foundation graduate research fellow. Throughout her training and career, Dr. Shastri has led efforts to improve representation and health outcomes for all people.

On This Episode We Discuss:

  • Changes in recent years with the diversity in genetic research
  • The importance of increasing the amount of diversity in genetic research and the impact it can have on improving healthcare outcomes 
  • Roles that genetic testing and personalized medicine can play in addressing health disparities among different populations
  • 23andMe’s collaboration with Morehouse School of Medicine, the first such collaboration between a genetic testing company and a Historically Black Medical College (HBMC), and how it aims to improve diversity in genetic research specifically for sickle cell disease
  • Challenges faced in expanding diversity in genetic research, and how is 23andMe working to overcome them
  • Goals of the African American Sequencing Project
  • Information included in 23andMe’s sickle cell screening report and challenges and considerations when it comes to providing genetic information related to sickle cell disease when it’s direct-to-consumer 
  • 23andMe’s goals and initiatives for diversifying genetic research and improving healthcare outcomes for all populations


Links to studies, websites, and press-releases mentioned in this episode:


DNA Today Episodes related to diversifying genetic research and mentioned in episode:


Stay tuned for the next new episode of DNA Today on September 1st, 2023 where we’ll be sharing an episode of It Happened to Me podcast featuring our Communications Lead Corinne Merlino, who shares her experience of having Pierre Robin Syndrome, just in time to in honor of the condition’s awareness day! 


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