What Anne Wojcicki Wants You to Know About Your Genome

Philanthropist and entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki wants you to get to know yourself better. (Read Anne Wojcicki's IP profile.)

Often known mainly as the wife of Google founder Sergey Brin, Wojcicki is also quite the philanthropist and entrepreneur in her own right. She is the brainchild behind 23andMe, which is something of a hybrid company combining health-care philanthropy with capitalism.

The concept behind 23andMe is simple. Although most people like to think they know themselves pretty well, they really don't know enough, at least not on the chromosomal level. Just give 23andMe's scientists $99 and a little bit of your saliva, and eight weeks later you'll receive a detailed genetic report outlining much of your ancestry and possible health risks. The 23andMe lab will genotype your DNA and report everything from mundane details such as hair color, height, and whether or not you have freckles, to whether or not you can taste certain foods and the likelihood that you might develop a genetic disease or even cancer.

Although there is much about these DNA tests that smacks of a profit-making opportunity, especially the flashy ads, the purpose is largely intended to make many lives better. Not to mention, 23andMe recently dropped the price of its DNA kits from $299 to $99, permanently. Prior to being thrust into the spotlight as Sergey Brin's wife (read Sergey Brin's IP profile), Anne Wojcicki spent 10 years working in the financial field, investing in health-care companies. During that time, Wojcicki realized that patients themselves have little to say about the health-care system and that everything about health care is dictated by doctors and insurance companies. She wondered what might happen if patients had access to more health information. That's where 23andMe was born.

While the DNA testing gives individuals more control over their own health care, the greatest impact could be global, as the overall goal of 23andMe is to create a massive database that could end up transforming medicine forever. In fact, the genetic testing was priced at $999 when it was first introduced, which precluded a lot of people from participating. But the company was able to raise $50 million, which allowed it to drop the price to $99, resulting in an explosion in the size of its database.

To date, 23andMe has genotyped more than 200,000 users, with 90% of those opting to participate in the company's research efforts. With each research question counting as a data point, 23andMe has collected more than 100 million data points. Even better, 2 million more data points are added each week. This data has allowed the company to better study Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and carcinoma.

Basically, while Wojcicki and 23andMe are helping you to know yourself better, together you are actually making it more possible to cure mankind's most horrendous diseases, and that result is something we all can live with.