Chronomics offers chance for you to track your health through epigenetic testing
Cambridge start-up says it is world's first company to offer the direct-to-consumer test
A Cambridge start-up says it is the world’s first company to track your changing health and wellbeing by harnessing epigenetic information on your DNA.
Chronomics, formed by four young entrepreneurs, offers direct-to-consumer personalised epigenetic testing.
The company - which has entered the Start-up of the Year category in the Cambridge Independent’s Science and Technology Awards - aims to change the way people manage their lifestyles by offering them insights into their future health through what is written on their DNA.
Customers register for an epigenetic testing kit and return a saliva sample from which Chronomics extracts DNA.
Next-generation sequencing and artificial intelligence-powered data analytics are used, along with answers on a questionnaire, to offer information on which the customer can act.
CEO Dr Tom Stubbs told the Cambridge Independent: “We look at epigenetic and genetic information. Customers receive their results through our online platform.
“We break these down into ‘apps’ for different indicators, providing customers with information about each indicator, what it means for them and how they can improve it.”
Epigenetics is the study of changes caused to the body by modifications in gene expression – that is, whether genes are turned off (silenced) or turned on (expressed). These changes do not relate to actual changes in our underlying DNA code.
While epigenetic change is natural, it is influenced by environmental and lifestyle factors. Our exposure to pollution and ultraviolet light, our level of exercise, diet, ageing and even sleep pattern can all cause epigenetic changes.
Tom, one of three founders who completed PhDs at Cambridge, said: “Epigenetic changes can be harmless – for example, where cells differentiate to form skin cells, liver cells or brain cells. But epigenetic change can also have more damaging effects that can result in diseases like cancer and other human disorders.
“It is these changes that we will be able to manage better by analysing and understanding our epigenetic data and making proactive choices about our future.
“We look at environmental and life choice factors. It could be smoke exposure, insulin sensitivity or stress levels. These affect people differently depending on your genetic predisposition – and you can see that it in your epigenetics.”
Chronomics says its insights will help those using its service to tackle many physical and mental disorders, including metabolic diseases, inflammation, mental wellbeing, chronic stress, fatigue and obesity.
Tom said: “It gives people knowledge so they can enact some positive change in their lifestyle. The advice is tailored to the person.
“We don’t say ‘this is increasing your risk of cancer’. If it was air pollution, for example, we would show how much exposure your body is experiencing. We know pollution is not ubiquitous – it can even depend on where you walk on the pavement, so there are some simple things people can do. People can also protect themselves in their home, such as with air filters.”
He added: “For certain environmental factors, this personalised, proactive and preventative approach to health is already here.
“We know that alcohol and folate intake, two known cancer risk factors, are associated with changes to the epigenome. Physical exercise and a low-fat diet have both been shown to reduce recurrence rates through potentially epigenetic mechanisms. In addition, epigenetic risk factors may also be mitigated by dietary intake of classes of vegetables known to contain anti-cancerous compounds.
“Isothiocyanates found in broccolis and water cress are known to inhibit epigenetic proteins called HDACs in cancerous cells.”
The cost of the service is £70 per month or £800 for a year. Chronomics’ customers can be individuals, or companies looking after their employees.
“We are also in talks with companies that provide wellness and health assessment packages for companies,” said Tom. “We suggest people get tested once a year. It’s measuring longer-term, systemic effects that are associated with chronic ailments.”
Chronomics was only founded in December 2017 by Tom and his Cambridge colleagues, Toby Call, a biochemist, Daniel Herranz, who is the chief scientific officer, plus Charles Ball, the chief operating officer, who has a sales and marketing background. They have been joined by chief technology officer Rob Thompson, who has been working as a full stack developer for Yahoo and Saatchi & Saatchi for more than 10 years.
Research for the company has been ongoing for more than a year and built on Tom’s research at the Babraham Institute.
“My PhD was on building epigenetic predictors or biomarkers, specifically looking at ageing and biological age, comparing how healthy people look to how healthy they are and looking at how lifestyle factors affect that,” said Tom, who mentored Daniel during his PhD at the European Bioinformatics Institute at Hinxton.
Having secured $100,000 from California-based global venture capital firm SOSV, the team have accelerated fast and already have their first product on the market.
SOSV invests annually in 150 companies through a vertical accelerator programme, typically providing seed capital and a specialised global staff of engineers, designers and scientists to accelerate product development. It offers mentors with market and technical expertise plus an infrastructure of laboratory and maker spaces. SOSV has also provided introductions to investors and other partners across the globe for Chronomics, which is now looking for seed funding of £500,000. And it already has its first 50 customers.
Tom said: “These are customers who are waiting to get their sequencing results.”
Customers are promised full data protection but can opt in to contribute their data anonymously to research.
“Within the platform they will be able to keep track of their research contribution – so how much their data is being used and what for,” said Tom.
Toby Call, co-founder, added: “DNA-based health tests were pioneered over the last decade. But aside from interesting tidbits about morbidity risks you can’t alter, ancestry you mostly already know, and what type of earwax you have, genetic tests are fundamentally limited by the fact that your DNA by and large does not change.
“Chronomics is adding a time axis to make DNA testing relevant to the present and future. We are the first company worldwide to offer epigenetic testing, building an AI-based platform to leverage the predictive power of DNA methylation biomarkers. This will be the first of the ‘actionable omics’ that will drive the next generation of personalised deep health management.”
An official launch of Chronomics’ personalised epigenetic testing platform takes place in London on June 30-July 1. Artists are being asked to contribute to a gallery – from music to paintings – on the theme of ‘the future is personal’.
“It’s about how they interpret the personalisation of healthcare so we can open a dialogue about what is happening,” said Tom.
Longer-term, other bio-data products could follow.
Tom concluded: “At Chronomics our mission is to ensure that you understand how your environment is impacting on your epigenetic information and how this pertains to your disease risks. We welcome a future where informed, proactive and personalised interventions are commonplace and reactive interventions can become a last resort.”
More by this authorPaul Brackley