Identifying migraine triggers and “your genome has a posse”
MyMigraineJournal is an interesting self-tracking site with some statistical weight behind it. The idea is to let migraine sufferers define potential “triggers” of migraines, like red wine or aged cheese, after which they will complete a daily questionnaire about what they ate, drank etc. and whether they had a headache that day (this takes about 3o seconds per day). The site will also try to assess whether any of the triggers seems statistically related to higher (or lower) migraine risk. As outlined here, this is done through logistic regression on one variable (trigger) at a time. The site uses a hierarchical Bayesian model where the prior distribution is initially uniform but will eventually, after enough data has been collected, be derived from the aggregated population of previous users, which I think is a nice touch. They don’t look for interactions between triggers yet, but may add such functionally in the future. A user can download their own complete data in Excel format, or delete some or all of it from the system. I think simple but clever systems like this could prove quite useful to people.
On a related note, Nature Medicine recently ran an interesting article, “Personalized investigation“, about people who use direct-to-consumer genetic tests to learn more about genomes and physiology. The article describes how five early adopters of 23andMe’s SNP tests teamed up to investigate whether SNPs in a gene coding for an enzyme related to vitamin B metabolism were predictive of how the carriers would respond to vitamin supplements. The team then performed a series of experiments where they either took no supplements, took multivitamins, L-methylfolate or a combination of both multivitamins and L-methylfolate. After each phase of the experiment, they took blood tests to measure homocysteine, a biomarker for vitamin B activity.
Now, unless I’m misguided or the news is misreported, such an experiment with five subjects could never get anywhere close to a statistically significant outcome. But with larger cohorts, that could change. A new company called Genomera is developing tools that will allow this kind of self-experimentation study to scale into large numbers of participants. In fact, the Nature Medicine article says that Genomera will “roll out the vitamin study as the first open participatory project under its platform.” As of now, the Genomera site still appears to be mostly under construction, although it does say that the company has trademarked “Your genome has a posse” and related phrases. It sounds like an interesting business concept – I just wish they hadn’t described it as “the Facebook of genomics” in the Nature Medicine article …