San Diego, August 25, 2014 — In launching a new research initiative to study Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), the group 23andMe turned to Calit2 director Larry Smarr and four other scientific advisors. Each advisor will bring deep expertise to assist 23andMe in analyzing data and developing surveys for the study. In announcing the IBD initiative, 23andMe quoted Smarr as saying that the study could illustrate the power of the 23andMe research model. “I believe that a more accurate stratification of IBD disease states will result from classifying based on combinations of (genetic markers) than on symptoms,” said Smarr, who has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. “23andme is the best way to quickly get a large number of people classified to test this hypothesis.” The goal of the IBD study is to enlist 10,000 people in the effort.
Calit2 Director Larry Smarr
23andMe bills itself as the “largest DNA ancestry service in the world,” providing ancestry-related genetic report and uninterpreted raw genetic data.
IBD is an umbrella diagnosis covering an estimated 1.4 million people in the U.S. with serious digestive conditions such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. 23andMe is collaborating with Pfizer, Inc., to “learn more about what role genetics and environment play in the development of IBD as well as how the condition progresses” – hopefully giving scientists and physicians new insights into the disease. Prior to announcing Smarr’s involvement, 23andMe CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki called the study an “innovative, consumer-centered approach to understanding the fundamentals of inflammatory bowel disease and the variability of treatment response.”
23andMe pointed out that Smarr has, over the last decade, “tracked everything from his weight, to his sleep patterns to his caloric intake and even the microbes in his stool to learn about his own health. But what had started as a simple effort to track weight loss soon became a focused effort to apply all his scientific skills to manage his own health and his own struggle with what he later learned was IBD.”
What makes the study particularly suited to 23andMe is that individuals are allowed to participate from home via the Internet, and to do so anonymously. According to the organization, “23andMe’s research offers people who might not be able to participate otherwise a simple and non-intrusive way to get involved in important research.”
Smarr sees huge potential in gathering together many people with IBD. “The study will be successful if it results in a large number of people classified with both (genetic markers) and phenotypes,” he said in a post on the 23andMe website. “This will immediately yield a first cut at the emerging IBD stratification landscape.”
In addition to advising the organization on the science, Smarr challenged others with IBD to become part of the study. “By participating in this study,” he said, “you will help accelerate research toward a new approach to understanding IBD, and hopefully to creating more personalized therapy approaches.”