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The Innovators

Next Up in Health Tech: DNA Hacking

Next Up in Health Tech: DNA Hacking
Image credit: pixabay.com

Far Out Tech

It seems like every other day we read about some far-out, new technology that makes us scratch our heads and say, "What the heck?" In this series, we'll take a look at all types of crazy new gadgets, apps and other technologies -- and the entrepreneurs dreaming them up.

You may not have heard of "quantified health," but you've surely seen some of the forms it takes: fitness bands, watches and all sorts of other devices that measure heart rate, how far and how fast you go on your morning run, even blood glucose levels. Name a bodily function and there's probably a device out there that can measure it in real time.

Now, a startup company called Exogen Biotechnology is taking it one amazing step further: it is developing products that allow users to monitor damage to their DNA, and is crowdsourcing the huge amounts of data required to make those results meaningful.

DNA damage sounds kind of scary, doesn't it? DNA is important, after all, and you might think it's not the kind of thing that can get damaged easily. But it happens on a daily basis, both from normal processes and from exposure to things like ultraviolet light or environmental and industrial chemicals.

Normally, your body repairs this damage as part of its daily functioning, but scientists are studying the ways in which DNA damage and repair changes as the result of outside factors. "Your ability to repair your DNA upon damage is vital to the integrity of your genome and normal functioning," the Exogen Bio website says. "DNA damage and poor DNA repair has been linked to many diseased states including cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, immunological diseases and premature aging."

For now, Exogen Bio's process is relatively invasive: participants take three fresh blood samples on three consecutive days with a sterile lancet, and mix the sample with a fixative solution (both provided in the $99 basic kit), which are then sent to Exogen Bio's labs for analysis.

This only provides a baseline value, though. To get meaningful data about your own rate of DNA damage and repair over time -- such as before and after starting a new diet and exercise regimen -- you'll need to send a second set of samples, which means buying a set of two kits for $179.


The problem Exogen Bio is trying to solve is that there is relatively little data about DNA damage and repair. As co-founder Jon Tang points out, “If you take the example of a cholesterol test, the absolute value you get is important because there is scientific evidence to support the relation between cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases. We hope that this will eventually be the same with our test, but with other diseases. However in our case, the meaning behind the values of our DNA damage test needs to first be defined.  This is one of the main reasons why we chose to do a citizen science study.  We need to collect data to determine what is considered low, normal, and high and how those values relate to specific diseases, and environmental and lifestyle factors."

So essentially, you are paying them for the privilege of being a test subject, and allowing your DNA-related data to be used as part of the larger analytical study. You will be able to see your own results, of course, and as the sample size gets larger and thus the data becomes more meaningful, Exogen Bio promises to update users on their findings.

“Our goal is to eventually provide a means for individuals to ‘track and hack’ their DNA health to reduce their risk for many aging-related diseases," says Tang.

If you'd like to get in on the ground floor of what could be the next generation of biodata tracking and analysis, there's less than a month left in Exogen Bio's Indigogo campaign. The campaign has already surpassed its funding goal, and preliminary results show that the technology and data analysis is viable. 

What crazy apps and gadgets have you come across lately? Let us know by emailing us at FarOutTech@entrepreneur.com or by telling us in the comments below.

Katherine Gray is a freelance writer, photographer and desktop publisher based in western Maryland.

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