09 Sep 2017

What my DNA told me: a conversation with CEO Sharon Watkins

As new and existing technology companies innovate exponentially, SANDSTONE stays one step ahead of the developments.

In this instance, we explore DNA mapping. Our CEO Sharon Watkins learns how knowing yourself down to the genome can lead to new prospects in modern medicine, including; customisable medicine, preventative treatment, and early detection. Preparing for change before it happens with an in-depth investigation and in most cases, hands-on experience.

Sharon takes independent investment research seriously. Serious enough to put her person on the line when bringing an inquiry into a proactive approach. To Sharon, numbers and data are a critical part of investment analysis. However, she knows experiences add nuance and depth to the details. In a recent exploration of DNA testing, this experience taught more than what could appear on a statistical report.

Before DNA testing came into our view, it all began when Sharon attended the Executive Program (EP) at Singularity University. The EP is a week-long immersive course in Silicon Valley that examines how key converging technologies will shape our future. As Sharon explored the new tech being showcased, she mingled with business executives, non-profit sector professionals, and government leaders.

Ethics, abundance, and healthcare were frequent topics of conversation, sparking Sharon to think of what may happen to societal ethic when we have bountiful access to most things right at our fingertips. These discussions brought forward important questions; "How can we strive toward not only a long life but a life worth living? What will all this mean in the future? If health is a new wealth, how will ethics and abundance show up in healthcare?"

It is common knowledge that good health starts with preventative measures; exercise, eating right, and proper vitamin treatments, just to name a few. With these measures in mind, DNA testing aims to change the way we approach these preventative measures by knowing exactly how or what we can prevent.

With an exploratory spirit and a determined mind, Sharon decided to have her DNA thoroughly tested to understand how these significant changes will develop. Finding answers to her technical questions, while developing new investment based queries; how much of this tech already exists? What will it change? Where will it impact? How fast is this change coming to the public?

Knowing early detection for preventative measures in healthcare is the future of medicine, Sharon began a journey into herself by mapping her DNA.

I approached DNA testing on two levels: I wanted to see how real and how relevant full body analysis is for our investments. From a personal angle, it was just about ‘how's my health?'

- S. Watkins

Sharon's affiliation with Singularity University connected her with a DNA testing company that offers a full suite of assessment and decided on the largest sequencing genome facility in the world; Human Longevity Inc, with a pilot program called Health Nucleus. Their pilot program uses proprietary technology and analysis to make healthcare proactive, predictive and preventative - effectively changing the face of Healthcare in the near future.

Human Longevity Inc

Interest peaked when Sharon noted her and Health Nucleus' goals aligned. A goal to live better, with a longer, higher quality of life. Not just fighting disease and illness as it comes, but finding what you are uniquely susceptible to, and preventing it.

In North America, the cost of long term care for the dramatically ageing population will soon become a real issue.

- S. Watkins

The social and financial cost of an ageing population is steadily rising and not only in North America. The World Health Organization forecasts the changes we can expect:

  • 11% to 22%: Growth in the percentage of global population aged 60+ years, between 2000 and 2050. 
  • 605 million to 2 billion: Absolute increase in the number of people aged 60+ years over the same period. 
  • 395 million: Number of people who will be over 80 years old in 2050, quadrupling from 2000.

To date, there are no historical precedents for an ageing epidemic. As society navigates the approaching crisis, it is SANDSTONES duty to discover investable opportunities within these changing times. Such as; Robotic surgery, custom medication, and DNA testing. After all, customisation in healthcare is where the money will be.

Knowing your susceptibilities gives you something to act on, instead of waiting until something harmful shows up and the only choice given to you by your doctors is pharmaceuticals.

- S. Watkins

The Testing
Sharon is enthusiastic when she describes the DNA testing; "I went through the process, seeing machines I'd never seen anywhere before. They could spot cancer five years before it would show up using current testing methods."

Comprehensive DNA testing is not only about detecting nascent cancer. It is a new inflection point in understanding human biology through genome mapping. An analysis to control and prevent infectious diseases by testing muscle, bone, fat and brain in details new to the population.

Sharon's test discovered she is in excellent health. She reveals a condensed version of her testing journey here:

  • Getting to know you: a full day of cutting-edge assessments. Test including genomic, cardiometabolic, neurological and early cancer detection. Followed by questions on health, family history, and a discussion with your doctor to build an in-depth health profile.
  • Exploring your health: a full day visit to the Health Nucleus facility for medical and genomic assessment.
    • Genome sequencing
    • Microbiome sequencing 
    • Metabolome analysis 
    • Cognitive testing
    • CT (or CAT) scanning
    • Cardiac rhythm monitoring
    • 4D echocardiogram
    • MRI scans and lab tests
  • Integrating your data: clinician and scientist teams integrate your genomic, microbiome, and metabolomic data with your clinical data. 
  • Risk assessment: thorough overlay of all clinical and genomic data.
  • Coordinate with current physician: a scheduled virtual consultation with your primary care provider to review your integrated health report.

After the complete process, Sharon learned she has a low genetic risk for multiple conditions, and received a six-page document listing pharmaceutical drugs that are redundant, or even dangerous, for her to take because of how her body reacts to them. The tests also revealed how her body reacts to chemicals. One widespread chemical being caffeine, she discovered her body metabolises it quickly. Sharing the test results with her doctor means physicians can customise future medication - to the best of their abilities today.

Results went on to expose micro-organisms residing in the gastrointestinal tract. This little bacterium can affect everything from digestion and cancer to mental health. The battery of tests and analysis went on to reveal individualised bone, muscle, and organ conditions. Allowing an understanding of what areas should be observed moving forward.

Health Nucleus communicates that all cancer is curable when detected early enough. To make this a reality, their laboratory team spent hours speaking with Sharon's doctor, answering questions and interpreting results. They also provide continued access to their experts for Sharon's questions.

From Micro to Macro
Beyond what Sharon knows from her body's detailed map, the entire experience opened whole areas of medicine for her team to think about and research, including:

  • Customised pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines built for our individual bodies, targeting what is unique to you and not just the masses.
  • Yearly check-ups may not be necessary. If we all knew when and why to see the doctor, it could have a significant impact on healthcare quality. 
  • Precise and personalised vitamin therapy will change the vitamin industry, knowing exactly what your body needs and when to take it. 
  • Food choices and eating habits will adjust as we understand how our body reacts to chemicals and minerals in food. 
  • Immunotherapy as a type of cancer treatment will become increasingly effective once early detection systems become standard in healthcare.

There are currently entire wards of hospitals dedicated to detoxing seniors from over-prescribed medications that may not have any benefit on an individual level. Knowing what drugs work best for everyone would mean a much healthier population, and especially seniors. People won’t need as many drugs if they’re using the right ones.

- S. Watkins

Today universal healthcare is chronic ‘sick care'. Filling up hospitals with patients needing treatments that may have been prevented with early detection. Healthcare of the near future will focus on proactive, predictive, and preventative approaches. Ageing well will keep us out of hospitals for as long as possible while allowing a higher quality of life.

An example of a preventative benefit would be pinpointing a melanoma patient's unique protein mutations; researchers can then craft vaccines that increase the patients naturally occurring T-cells to kill growing cancer, before getting to a point where chemotherapy is necessary - curing cancer before it has a chance to do further damage.

With all this new information in mind, Sharon always acts and expands on her research. One of these expansions being an involvement in a conference with top physicians and the United States head of neurosurgery. The meeting discussed which machines are used today for diagnostic and treatments, and where neurosurgery is heading. This additional research displays investable angles for Sharon and her team by knowing what is available and what is on the horizon.

Interesting Facts

  • Prescription Inaccuracy: Hospitals have wards dedicated to rehabilitating patients that have been over-prescribed or misdiagnosed pharmaceuticals.
  • Medical Overdose: Overdosing on pharmaceuticals has led to medically induced Parkinson's and other deadly inflictions which could have been avoided.
  • Neanderthal Gene: We all have it, but to what degree? With genome mapping, a scientist can see just how close we are to the earliest of human ancestors. 
  • Vitamin Therapy: Not all vitamins are necessary or even useful. Individuals react, absorb, and even create natural vitamins differently - customising needs. 
  • Avatar: DNA mapping can build a computer-generated avatar, without facial recognition a digital image of your face and body is generated using only your genetic makeup. 
  • DNA Mapping: Discover interesting facts about your body; do you have a sprint or endurance ability, how do you absorb common chemicals like caffeine, what different ages are each of your bones, how does your blood sugar fluctuate naturally, which pharmaceuticals are redundant or even dangerous for you?

Bottom Line
Customisable healthcare is still in its infancy. While doctors outside of Human Longevity Inc (HLI) currently have little education in the field, there are multiple options to explore; the trick is knowing which are investable now, and which are investable in the future.

DNA testing is in an expensive research phase today and will become gradually accessible to the public as technology improves and tests become inexpensive. A society with access to preventative detection will be inclined to follow healthy habits when we all know precisely what needs to change in our lifestyles.

I am now able to take control of my healthcare. I also have a clearer view of the path on the investment side. We can look much further into the future to see what’s going to be important, and which companies are coming up with x, y, and z. It’s not that we won’t be talking about pharma companies anymore, it’s that the whole conversation is going to change, and soon.”

- S. Watkins

Learn more about North America's largest genome sequencing facility Human Longevity Inc, and their pilot program Health Nucleus by visiting their websites.