Athletigen is a genetics company with offices in Halifax and Toronto, Canada, that offers advice to athletes and exercise enthusiasts to help maintain and improve their health, based on their genetic data. Customers can get their DNA sequenced, and then based on their unique genetic traits, Athletigen will identify genetic variants that can impact a variety of performance and disease parameters. For example, a casual runner might be concerned about joint health, and if their genetic data indicates that they are at increased risk for osteoarthritis, they could help to offset this by switching to a less high-impact form of exercise while increasing resistance training.
Athletigen is now also offering its services to people who have already had their DNA sequenced by other companies. Several firms offer DNA sequencing so that people can trace their ancestry and obtain some medially related information, and now these customers can learn more about their health traits via Athletigen. The Athletigen DNA Wellness Report, that uses 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Athletigen DNA data, includes over 30 different health criteria.
Medgadget asked Athletigen’s Head of Science and Research, Dr. Ian Zinck, some questions about the concept.
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: What motivated you to get into this type of testing and analysis?
Ian Zinck, Athletigen: Understanding how to use our genetic data to improve our performance and well-being is a prospect that everyone at Athletigen gets excited about. As the head of the science and research team, I have been motivated by the chance to give every person access to their genetic information and the tools to use this information to improve their health, well-being, and achieve their athletic goals. We do this by bringing the actionable information from medical and health studies to our users in easy to understand reports. This is accelerating deployment of medical and health research when compared to the classical approaches used by most health authorities, who may take years to distribute and apply research findings.
Athletigen’s initial products focused on genetic factors that impact athletic performance and we are currently running a living lab with a group of these athletes. We are using our experience and feedback gained by working with athletes to develop a range of reports for individuals looking for an added layer of information to improve their well-being and long-term health.
Medgadget: What criteria does the DNA Wellness report cover? What can people expect to learn about themselves?
Ian Zinck: Athletigen’s DNA Wellness Report contains a panel of genetic markers linked to aging health, bone and joint health, muscular fitness and performance, vitamin and mineral metabolism and sleep hygiene. We selected these categories for the DNA Wellness Report based on their ease of application. This report will not tell you how to reduce your risks of developing life-threatening disease. It will educate people on how they can make small adjustments to their lifestyle to improve health in the long term.
Medgadget: How can people apply this knowledge to be healthier? Can we overcome or reduce the impact of diseases with a genetic component through lifestyle choices?
Ian Zinck: The DNA Wellness Report is just one piece of information that users can use to be healthier. Knowing that a user may have an increased risk of developing arthritis or that they are prone to premature aging from sun exposure may be the push they need to schedule a consultation with a physiotherapist or be proactive about using sun protection. These informative pieces of information may make a user more aware of how their current activities could have long term beneficial, or detrimental, impacts to their health.
Medgadget: Does the report explain or reference the scientific research behind the results and recommendations? Can the results vary depending on ethnicity?
Ian Zinck: Athletigen has developed a stringent measure of confidence (A – D) to give users a clear understanding of the level of research that has been conducted for each trait in the report. These confidence levels are based on the replication of findings, study sample sizes and the ethnic diversity of these studies. Traits with a grade A have been studied many times in large, multi-ethnic studies, while a grade D trait shows promise, but has only been studied once. Athletigen is working with many user groups to conduct real-time research to improve the confidence of all markers.
Medgadget: Why is this type of information of specific benefit for athletes? Can anyone benefit from the DNA Wellness report?
Ian Zinck: The information provided in Athletigen’s athlete specific platform focused on genetic information that coaches and athletes could use as part of their training programs to improve performance, recovery, nutrition and reduce injury risk. This information has been expanded upon with DNA traits that influence aging health and general well being to make the contents of the DNA Wellness Report informative for everyone.
Medgadget: Are the data private? How does Athletigen protect people’s data?
Ian Zinck: Athletigen uses a data storage system that meets or exceeds the requirements of data privacy laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. DNA is owned by the individual. At Athletigen, we employ privacy practices to ensure that customer data will not be shared with any agency without explicit consent. Our system is periodically audited by independent groups to ensure that these requirements continue to be met.
Link: Athletigen homepage…