Joyce Tung: She’s a Genetic-testing Genius

June 29 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

When I attended a party a few weekends ago, I was amazed by how many women had different dietary restrictions. “No carbs for me!” “I’m staying off dairy for a while.” “I really want that glass of wine but I’m detoxing.” Diets are nothing new, of course, and throughout history, some popular ones have been downright ridiculous. For instance, in the 1920s, the Lucky Strike cigarette brand actually promoted reaching for a Lucky instead of a cookie. Crazy, right? Today, whether you’re on the Master Cleanse or the cookie cleanse, offer yourself a little compassion. If you break one of your self-imposed rules, remember you’re the one who made the rule in the first place, forgive yourself and know that tomorrow is a brand new day and another opportunity to be your best self.

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: Only 6 Percent

Of course, altering your diet may have absolutely nothing to do with weight. When we learn about our family history, it can be a wake-up call, motivating us to live healthier lives in order to stave off illness that runs in the family, like Aunt Jane’s heart disease or Grandma Lucy’s breast cancer. Considering recent technological advances in genetic testing, some folks are looking to science to help determine whether they’re prone to family-specific risks of disease. But according to a 2016 STAT-Harvard poll, despite its wide availability, only about 6 percent of adults say they have undergone genetic testing, many of whom were driven by concerns about their health and the health of their children. While that’s just a sliver of the population, 81 percent of those who went through the process believe genetic testing was helpful.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Joyce Tung, Vice President of Research at 23andMe

So, what in the wild world of science is genetic testing exactly? Put simply, it’s a way to take a look at your genes and get a more comprehensive view of what you’re made of. One genetics-research company you may have heard of is 23andMe, which has definitely brought this concept to the forefront for many Americans. But the company couldn’t do it all without the smarts of geneticist Joyce Tung, the vice president of research for 23andMe.

Once Joyce received her Ph.D. in genetics and completed her genetics work as a postdoc researcher in 2007, she landed at 23andMe, and for the past decade, has been using her skills and expertise to work her way up from the position of human geneticist to leading the whole dang research team. She now manages more than 40 scientists in what is expected to soon become a $10 billion industry.

23andMe recently received FDA approval to sell reports showing customers whether they have increased genetic risks of developing specific diseases or health conditions, thereby lending even more credibility to the testing process. Some of the key health risks 23andMe can identify include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and celiac disease. Testing can even offer a glimpse into how your genes and ancestry affect your weight!

Joyce has a passion for consumer genetic testing because she believes that while learning about groundbreaking science-y things is totally cool, letting the public in on this remarkable advancement is even cooler. Essentially, she wants people to not only know more about their genetic makeup, but also understand how the research-based process works. After all, she’s got this whole genetic testing thing down to a science!

Regardless of whether you want to know the stuff you’re made of, it’s always smart to be in tune with your body. At the end of the day, it’s our health that matters most.


We’ll end today’s science-focused story with a quote from formidable female scientist Marie Curie. She said:

“Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

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