Kiwi business WellMe using artificial intelligence and ‘genetics’ to tell us how to live

Kiwi business WellMe using artificial intelligence and 'genetics' to tell us how to live

A Kiwi start-up company claims to be able to improve the health of New Zealanders by analysing their genes – using artificial intelligence.

WellMe says it offers each user a personal “epigenetic profile” which tells them what to eat, when to sleep and even where to sit in the office.

Epigenetics is the study of the way in which a person’s genes can be turned “on” and “off” throughout their lifetime due to environmental and other factors.

WellMe said it worked with Australian exercise physiologist and dietitian Dr Cam McDonald for 18 months to develop a system that would allow it to provide personalised health programmes based on people’s unique biology. Genetic tests – Our expert interview

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Participants answer questions about their personal and family health history and input their measurements of different body parts, such as the circumference of the skull, into an internet-based platform called ph360 which uses an algorithm to determine what epigenetic markers they appear to have, McDonald said.

WellMe chief executive Gareth O’Donnell measures journalist Brittany Keogh’s skull circumference for her custom health consultation. That data is used to classify participants into one of six physiological “types” and provide them with insight into how their environment, nutrition, lifestyle and sleep patterns likely affects their health.

Users and their coaches then come up with a plan on how they can improve their health and record their progress in the application.

McDonald, chief executive of ph360, said the technology used data and ratios collated from the findings of thousands of peer reviewed studies.

Australian universities had funded further research on its methodology and the system was constantly updated as new studies were published and data collected from users.

WellMe has recently launched the platform to corporates as a personalised health programme for employees. Online media company Yellow has signed up to a pilot, the results of which are expected in the near future. WellMe chief executive Gareth O’Donnell believes his programme with PH360 could revolutionise how New Zealanders look after their health. WellMe founder Gareth O’Donnell, who has more than a decade of experience as a fitness coach and personal trainer, said the project had changed how he worked with clients.

“One of the things that we see in the old model [of training people], and why the old model was broken is it’s generic, it’s one size fits all.”

But University of Auckland research fellow Dr Felicia Low, who specialises in evolutionary medicine and developmental epigenetics, was skeptical of the programme as she had never heard of epigenetic science being used in this way and was yet to read any academic literature about it.

However, there had been a lot of research into personalised nutrition.

“There are many other factors that can affect your health, such as your gut bacteria, that can affect how you metabolise nutrients,” Low said.

“Some people have genetic factors that might be predispose them to certain health outcomes and genetic factors can also interact with epigenetic factors. It’s all very complex.”


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