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Surprising Science

Healthcare’s Data Problem

Yesterday, Big Think went West to Mountain View, CA to sit down with Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of personal genetics company 23andMe, a Google-backed start-up that makes home genetics tests available to consumers for around $400. Wojcicki spoke about the “data problem” of modern health care that drives 23andMe’s mission — in short, we’re trying to solve medicine’s great challenges and mysteries using too little information from too few real-world patients. Because of their high costs, some clinical trials are conducted with as few as a few dozen patients, leaving a high margin for error and scientists to draw only vague conclusions, in many cases. Wojcicki envisions a future in which low cost genetic testing permits patient communities to contribute data that is magnitudes of order more comprehensive than the sample sets of today. That could mean more medical innovations over radically shortened discovery cycles.

Wojcicki also spoke about her unique vantage point as an entrepreneur — Google was founded in her parent’s garage by her now husband Sergey Brin and his partner Larry Page. She also addressed the controversies and ethical dilemmas surrounding her work, which were the subject of Big Think’s Breakthroughs forum on genetics last summer. Stay tuned for Wojcicki’s full interview to get a peak into how you might one day understand the finest inner workings of, well, YOU.


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