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One Size Doesn’t Always Fit All

Advanced Genomics

And Expert Interview with Advanced Genomics Solutions. Advanced Genomics Solutions is driving the force of genetics with new science, derived from the Human Genome Project research. Kellie Straub Caldwell and Lance Bennett sit down with WELCOA’s Sara Martin Rauch to share how individuals can make healthier lifestyle choices with their own unique, genetic information.

Intro:

Advanced Genomics Solutions is driving the force of genetics with new science, derived from the Human Genome Project research. Kellie Straub Caldwell and Lance Bennett sit down with WELCOA’s Sara Martin Rauch to share how individuals can make healthier lifestyle choices with their own unique, genetic information.

One Size Doesn’t Always Fit All
An Expert Interview with Advanced Genomics Solutions

Sara Martin Rauch  The wellness industry is largely unfamiliar with the role that genomics could potentially play in corporate wellness. It’s funny, even the name Advanced Genomics sounds like science fiction to me, but it actually is really new science correct? Can you help us understand the science behind the health solutions that you provide at AGS?

Lance Bennett  A lot of what we have begun to work with is derived from research through the Human Genome Project, which actually finished over a decade ago. Once that genome was fully mapped it provided us with a great baseline. We used that to largely act as the driving force to continue our research. We really looked at finding actionable health solutions that empower individuals to make healthier lifestyle choices through the power of their own genetic information.

Part of what we do is work to demystify genetics and really focus in on things that people can do on an everyday basis with their own unique information. We can find out what may be most important to people in improving their healthy lifestyles with a simple cheek swab. Whether it’s helping an individual or helping an employer, we can really show that one size really doesn’t fit all when it comes to improving health, nutrition and fitness.

Kellie Caldwell Straub  At AGS, we focus on empowering clients to make those smarter lifestyle choices. People wonder so many things about themselves when it comes to health, wellness, nutrition, and fitness. It might be that they haven’t lost the weight they want to lose despite exercising and consuming a low-fat diet. Individuals may have cravings for certain foods or they engage in certain behaviors that they don’t fully understand. With the science of genetics, the research that we have, and correlative data, we are able to provide specific information to individuals so that they can have full awareness and understanding about their personal biology.

We like to think of this as a genetic owner’s manual that gets down to the very core of who they are. This “manual” really helps people in the face of the unknown and helps them makes sense of who they are so they can take control of their health like never before. It’s extremely innovative, so we continue to learn every day. We’re staying on the cutting edge of technology and science to better understand and be able to share what we’ve learned on the discovery of the Human Genome Project. Applying that knowledge to lifestyle genetics is really the wave of the future.

SMR  Well, I think our industry is very used to measuring things like biometric markers to help understand what disease they could be at risk for, so this is kind of a follow up question to my previous one. Can you share what information you are able to get through genetic testing, that you would not get from a biometric screening or another kind of risk-focused screening?

LB  We really look at making this the next step beyond biometric screening. The idea is to try to make something actionable in regards to improving the health of an individual. We currently have two main tests we offer, a health and wellness test and a drug sensitivity test. The health and wellness test looks at the genes and genetic variations in the individual in regards to how they metabolize foods, certain vitamins and the genetic predispositions around those. We also look at genetics regarding exercise and activity and we look at a number of different behaviors and behavioral factors.

This idea means that one size does not fit all when it comes to creating the right wellness plan for an individual. It’s not a cookie-cutter scenario. We can actually use genomics to help you choose the right combinations of foods and the right vitamins to help supplement areas your body might be lacking. We will help identify what types of exercise you could be doing: Are you more suited for endurance type training or do you need to have more of a resistance or strength-based training, or some combination? Are you an addictive eater? Are you an emotional eater? If you are, what tips and recommendations can we offer to find and navigate those triggers?

The idea is to try to uncover, genetically, who you are and understand the goals you are working to accomplish. How do you use your genes to your advantage or how do you circumvent those genes? Some people may want to lose weight. Some people may want to increase their performance in a sport. We want to be able to tell individuals what their genes are telling us and from this, formulate a plan to get them to where it is they want to go.

On the drug sensitivity test or the more clinical name – pharmacogenomics – we test how an individual metabolizes medications. Not everybody metabolizes medications the same. As a result, there are major issues you can have by taking the wrong medication. Reducing the amount of trial and error and reducing the potential side effects from taking medications is very important; not only to clinical health but also to reducing healthcare spending. By being able to take the test, we can help individuals and their healthcare provider figure out what might be the right medication. The idea is to shed some light on how the individual works—choosing how they want to go about a new wellness program to help get them to where they want to go faster, with less side effects and trial and error.

SMR  You said something that stands out to me. You said we help people uncover who they are. What’s interesting about that is, when we conduct biometric screenings, we give employees a sheet that gives them a target range for generic values and the target goal is set for them. It doesn’t sound like that AGS is setting goals for individuals. It sounds like you are giving people information they didn’t have before to help them understand who they are and make them more successful at achieving a goal that they set for themselves. Have you found that to be a new kind of conversation?

LB  It really is. Many established corporate wellness programs follow a prescriptive approach, especially with biometric screening. These [conversations] get us beyond that and really recognize the individual and more importantly, things the individual can do to help move beyond where they are and to help them get where they want to go – beyond that initial screen.

KCS  One of the things I’ll add to that, is the concept that clarity breeds compliance. When we have clarity and conscious awareness about people’s numbers we’re able to really give those individuals clarity not just about who they are, but about what choices they can make differently to get a different outcome, if that’s what they desire to do. It may be around cholesterol and blood pressure, weight and food behaviors, or exercise and activity.

What we have discovered, and why we test 60 different single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on 51 different genes in our Premium Health and Wellness Report, is that all of them are linked. Making changes in one area, affects changes in other areas as well. There is this incredible relationship behind the biometrics that most people are not yet aware of because they don’t have this genetic information to provide that kind of clarity. A great example is, in corporate wellness programs across the globe, the one thing we say to everybody is, “Eat as many healthy unsaturated fats as you possibly can.” However, what we have discovered in genetics is that, in a vast majority of the population they are at a higher risk and may have a higher tendency to gain weight or maintain stubborn weight when overconsuming mono unsaturated fats.

This refers to those healthy avocadoes, almonds, olive oil and salmon. If an individual is trying to lose to weight and we are encouraging them to eat healthy unsaturated fat, but they are choosing monounsaturated fats they might not be able to metabolize, it may actually put them at a higher risk for gaining stubborn weight. They are actually working against their body and not with their body.

SMR  I had this test done, and I found that out about myself. I think in my day-to-day, I probably go through a liter of olive oil maybe every two weeks. I cook with it, almost exclusively, and use it to make my own salad dressings at home. Olive oil and avocados are a big part of my life. I found out that same thing about myself. I mean, obviously they’re still healthy fats. They’re good for my heart and all those things, but I could have a different body composition if I hold back on those based on my genetics and go toward the polyunsaturated fats instead.

This was something I did not already know about myself, and I found that valuable. Truthfully, I was very blown away to find out that there are still small meaningful tweaks I can make that aren’t terribly difficult. I am not going to cut off the olive oil altogether, but reducing it could actually make a difference in my body composition and my general health. That definitely struck a chord with me.

LB  This is one of the easiest things to fix as well. If you are reaching for your olive oil, you could just as easily swap for grapeseed oil instead. Or if you snack on nuts for example, switch from an almond to a walnut in the afternoon. These are very easy habits to observe, do, and a little variation can go an incredibly long way for improving overall health. It is not like there is a major overhaul that needs to happen, but you would not know that you would need to make these changes without doing a test like this. This is a really new advancement in the corporate wellness space.

SMR  You see a lot of the genetic data; you consult with a lot of people to improve their health. Honestly, you guys have a very unique perspective as a result. So I was curious, would you mind sharing a little bit, about what you’ve learned about the health of American people in general? What concerns do you have about what you’ve learned through your work at AGS?

KCS  We’ve learned a lot after doing tens and thousands of genetic tests with individuals all over the world. We have genetic information that represent the building blocks of who we are as individuals and to be able to have that knowledge to tap into now is just incredible. I think one of the things that’s really important for people to understand, and we talk about this every single day in our consultations—is that this is a once in a lifetime test.

You’re going to use the information differently at different phases and stages of your life. The way that I use my genetic information now, the macronutrient percentages, carbohydrates, fats and proteins, are best for my body type and my metabolism. It helps how I handle everything from stress to exercise and activity, which contribute to soft tissue damage, recovery, blood pressure, cholesterol and the different food behaviors that may kick in. If I’m not getting the macronutrients that I need out of the foods I eat or the supplements I consume, or if I’m not “matching my meal to my wheel” as we like to say at AGS, there are definitely going to be challenges at different stages of life.

It also helps us balance life and work better when we know what we need to be doing to maximize our metabolism, our energy, our sleep patterns, and our stress factors. We have added in short-term and long-term stress factor results into our tests. Whether at home or in the workplace, we can really help individuals be proactive when it comes to their healthcare, wellbeing, level of fitness and how they feed their metabolism, burn calories and build lean muscle. People are hungry for it.

We’re finding more and more individuals taking proactive efforts they never took before, and investing in their health and wellness. It’s becoming very expensive to be reactive and just wait for something to go wrong. Even though you may know that you need to make different choices or you need to make decisions and lifestyle changes to go in a different direction, so many people don’t know what those better choices are. They might even depend on the results of their neighbor, best friend or even their mother. They try the same program that somebody else did, it didn’t work for them, and the big question is, “Why didn’t it work for me?”

One of the greatest things that we’ve learned in all of the testing we’ve done around the world is how we can personalize health, wellness, nutrition, fitness, medication management, and drug sensitivity with that particular test. People can personalize it, make it unique and individual to them, and get results faster than they ever have before.

SMR  I love that. Because if someone can’t get their stress under control, we know that they will have a much harder time making those other important lifestyle decisions like making sure they get enough fiber. It’s interesting that you can tell them specifically how stress might affect their health and then give them some targeted examples. I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but is there an anecdotal example that you can provide of a way that stress impacts health and a recommendation you could give as a result?

KCS  One of the things we know is that, genetic differences radically affect brain chemistry. Brain chemistry alters how different individuals respond to a variety of stress-induced situations. There are two major types of stress. There is short-term or acute stress, which is the body’s immediate reaction to a challenge or a problem. Then there is that long-term or chronic stress that persists over time and carries its own unique consequences.

We are also talking about things like blood pressure and hypertension and helping individuals understand how their brain chemistry plays into this. In addition, what they can do as far as micronutrient supplementation, addressing their macronutrient needs, or engaging in exercise and activities that can really help them overcome some of the stressful challenges that they have.

LB  I think when people get this information; the idea is to try to help them understand it’s their chemistry. If they are able to sort through things, there can be a great catalyst in moving towards being able to reduce this.

We had a situation once with a project manager who was in a very high-stress environment. Not only was she juggling multiple projects, it seemed like almost every day she was presented with change. She was having some acute issues with stress response as well as long-term stress response in a number of things happening because these projects were lasting three to five months. On top of that stress of family, children, extracurricular activities, and church, she really needed to understand what was happening. She had a genetic marker on short-term stress, but not on the longer-term stress.

The first thing she needed was recognition by saying, “Hey, I respond to short-term stress differently than other people do.” It was very empowering for her to know that while everybody stresses, she might handle it differently. This was key for her to recognize and say, “Okay, what can I actually do about this?” That’s where this report comes in and is really beyond what we’ve been able to do from a corporate wellness standpoint currently.

During some early consultation with her, we were able to help her with some coping mechanisms to recognize and handle that short-term stress. If there’s a trigger or two that she knew would occur from short-term stress, then what could she do to move quickly beyond that stress? With some small exercises while working with her stress management team at her wellness program at her work, she was able to control those short-term mechanisms a little better than she had in the past. Consequently, it has helped her manage some of the longer-term stressors as well.

The stress response is the newest section to our health and wellness report, which we see as an incredibly valuable tool moving forward. Even if work isn’t that stressful at that particular time, maybe there is another stressor in their life that bleeds into one of these other areas. Stress is stress. So yeah, we’ve got many examples. Not only in stress, but in some of the other areas of the report where people have been able to actually take the information they have and extrapolate that to moving to the point of, “how do I use this information to better my situation?” This is something new that hasn’t been really introduced into the wellness program by using genetics.

KCS  Many of the corporate wellness individuals that I work with, whether they are an executive level team member or a health and wellness coach implementing a program, say mental health is becoming the missing piece in corporate wellness programs. So many people face anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, which is why it was so important for us to add this into our health and wellness report to help corporate wellness organizations really dive further into and provide relevant information to their team members. To say, “We get it, we understand, and we’re here to help you.” Developing communication strategies, awareness and clarity helps people move through this. Because just like Lance said, so many times it’s not even the stress at work. Although, we know stress to be a major issue, it also includes those personal stressors.

Those situations happening at home that are pouring into the workplace are contributing to a lack of productivity, engagement, increased sick time, and very potentially high health care cost. There is still so much to learn and discover, and it’s just the beginning. By being able to provide this information, we are already noticing the drive towards healthier lifestyle choices and increased happiness. People are starting to do things for themselves, recognize stress triggers and make different choices around them and even change the way they are communicating.

SMR  I love everything both of you just said. We have such an opportunity to do a better job of addressing stress and how that affects our bodies and those lifestyle and behavior-change goals to empower employees with a new way of looking at their health.

I want us to talk about those success stories, but I want to start by first addressing the elephant in the room. At WELCOA, we have a whole benchmark of our Seven Benchmarks™ process dedicated to the importance of meaningful and responsible data collection especially when it comes to privacy. So, I want to ask you guys about privacy. Should employees have any concern when it comes to gaining access to a resource like genetic testing through their employer and what resulting data their employer sees?

LB  I think the short answer is yes. We absolutely value an individual’s privacy, specifically genetic privacy, and where that information goes. Since the inception of AGS, we have always held a foundation of genetic data privacy. Unlike many genetic companies that are out there, AGS has always taken the stance to not provide, sell, transfer, or offer any information for research purposes. This genetic information is sacred, much like your passport or social security number.

The only individual that receives the data from this report is the employee. We do not provide individual data to employers. It does not get into the hands of a third party, which is very important in making sure that we quell any fears of the employee to make sure that it is secured for them and if they want to share it, that’s their choice. We provide aggregate data to the employer. Information that is rolled up to be able to further advance their entire wellness program.

We are not a data informatics company like some labs that are out there. There will never be a way for an employer to get information from AGS where they could potentially hold it against the employee. For any individual out there that is thinking about doing a genetic test, make sure you read the fine print and understand what happens to your DNA data.

Make sure you’re working with a group that is protecting your data as much as possible. I have actually worked with a number of groups where this was a deciding factor in working with them—being able to have protection around the employee data. It’s been something, especially as more and more people look at genetic data moving forward, that they want to make sure is being recognized.

KCS  The other thing that I would say on that is we only ask for basic information—your name, address, email, and phone number—as well as a privacy and HIPAA compliance section and your signature. Clients kind of look at me dumbfounded and say, “Well the last genetic test I took, it took me two hours to fill out my requisition form because it was so long and detailed and asked all of this history about myself, my background, heredity, genealogy, ancestry and my medical information.”

We don’t ask for any of that information, because we tell you ahead of time what we’re including in our genetic test and in the profile that you receive. If you haven’t read the fine print or you’re not sure if a company is protecting your data safely and securely, be sure to simply ask, “Are they asking me these questions outside of what they’ve already told me they’re going to deliver to me? Chances are, that check box I marked may actually have made my data sellable, transferrable or given to somebody else that I don’t want.”

That is another gauge for people to be aware of if they are looking at genetic testing companies, especially in this realm of genomic-based wellness, nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle management. Our commitment to privacy, data security and safety is 100 percent ironclad. No exceptions. We don’t store things in the cloud; it’s a stance that AGS has taken from the very beginning and one in which we’re very proud. Because when we’re talking about the information in your cells that defines who you are, you are the only person that should ever have access to that information or somebody you choose to share it with.

SMR  That’s really interesting on a couple of levels. I won’t call any specific companies out, but you’re telling me that many of the genetics companies that we see advertise to us on TV or online—if they’re asking lots of corroborating questions about our health to accompany the saliva sample—could be selling and sharing our DNA data?

LB  Genetics, as you can imagine, is an emerging field. We find out a lot of new information almost every week.

That information, combined with consent from an individual could be a very big deal moving forward. Even if they do choose to de-identify their data. Therefore, it’s important once again, to understand what you are asking for and getting into. Most people, when they find out that not only did they pay for a genetic test, but they actually became part of a product for that company, don’t feel very good in some cases.

SMR  That is a great point about being an educated consumer, and I am glad it came up. You mentioned aggregate reporting, which is one of the deliverables an employer gets. In your experience, what do they do with that information once it’s delivered to them?

LB  Just as personalized as the test is, the employers will tend to personalize how they use their aggregate [report] as part of their decision moving forward. They want to see how [to] put genetics inside of their corporate wellness program and in what scale. In order to do that, we are able to provide aggregate data to make sure that they understand who took a test, percentage of men versus women, the average age, [and] the goals. Some people may have wanted to lose weight. Some may want to gain weight. They may want to improve their performance. Do they want to understand more on the exercise side, or on the vitamin side? Maybe they want to understand more on the medication metabolism side; for individuals that are older for example, [who] tend to take more medications later in life.

We work with that employer [to] understand what they want out of adding genetics and [how] we can work with them. We look at the size of the organization, the current health status of the organization, what their wellness program looks like, and really try to help them craft where they can add [genetics]. We have organizations that start slow and want to do a pilot of 25 [to] 100 people. Other organizations have jumped in with both feet and understand this is really the direction they want to take. They’re innovative companies, so all couple thousand employees can actually have access to this. Really understanding what their goals might be and why it is they’re considering genetic testing is really important to helping them figure out where it is they want to position it.

The last thing that I’ll say on that is, you have some people that want to have this as an add-on to what they’re already doing in their corporate wellness space. Others [who] may be overhauling their wellness program may be saying, “I’ve got limited dollars and in order for me to add genetic testing, I need to eliminate something.” We help them figure out what their goals are and where it is they could possibly place genetic testing.

KCS  At AGS, we are flexible and creative. We love to work with individual organizations and really hone in on their unique needs. Just as we’re all unique biologically and genetically, every organization has unique needs. To approach the integration of genetics in a cookie cutter approach, [does not] work very well, because we know that every organization’s population is different [with] different outcomes that they are trying to achieve. We can meet individual needs, maximize results and deliver those measurable results more regularly.

SMR  I love a couple of things that each of you touched on there. It is about positioning, and, to your point, it’s not cookie cutter for the individual or for the organization either. So that brings me to my next question. When an employer tells their employees they are offering them this type of testing resource, how do they communicate it so that employees trust their employer’s motives and understand what is to be achieved?

LB  We work with the organizations to help them with the right language to push out to their employees. [First], these are selective genes for health and wellness. They are not genes, which will tend to alert individuals of potentially bad health conditions for example. Other tests are out there that may look if someone has an increased risk of certain cancers, for example. We stay in the wellness space with actionable data.

We really try to focus in on health and wellness aspects and [ways to] use these genes to make some changes. This is really a next step in innovation, which not only helps the employer but also helps the employee. The employer can be seen as an organization that is looking for new and innovative ways to improve and extend employee health. Which is great not only for individuals working for them but being able to offer something that is exciting that can help employees in the short and long-term from a retention factor.

We offer videos and webinars [and] even on-site visits to make sure that we are there to answer employee questions as they arise. We do not try to make the employer a genetic expert by any means. We do work with a number of the health coaches, if they are on staff or if there are individuals in the organizations who will be taking the lead in helping relay this information, and take those ground-level questions and be able to provide some answers.

It’s really our job to be able to come in and support that employer. But we understand that some folks may have some more advanced questions and we want to make sure that we’re able to help them as well.

SMR  I feel like with this type of screening service you are saying, “We don’t know what’s best for you. That’s very personal. But I’m going to give you a resource to help you find out.” Is that accurate?

LB  That’s absolutely accurate. It’s a very pro-human approach to updating wellness programs that exist in most workplaces and help individuals understand what’s right for them. Maybe genetically a little bit or maybe significantly different than the individual in the cubicle to the left or cubicle to the right. Or the salesperson in the next territory over. So letting them understand more about their own biology is very important and having the employer fully understand that they are different and that they are going to have to take a different approach once they have this information to help individuals.

Most of the original corporate wellness programs were established on nonsmoking, less alcohol and more activity, which were great places to start. Now these programs actually have the ability to add genetics into these programs to expand where it is they can go and have a program in place that can help everybody on an individual basis. With a very simple cheek swab, done at the comfort of your own desk, at home or even somewhere remote, we can provide all of this information that really helps the employee and the employer. It’s can be a real win/win for employers and employees.

KCS  I’m always taken back Lance when I hear you talk about that to the old saying we all know so well, but it is so true: “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Let’s say we go into an organization and we do biometric screening on everyone in the organization. We take everybody who has high blood pressure and we put them over in room A, everybody who has high cholesterol in room B, and everybody who needs to lose weight in room C. We walk in and say, “Okay, this is what you’re going to do to improve your blood pressure results or to decrease your weight.” If you think about that realistically, we all know that doesn’t work. Just because Mary does X, Y, and Z, doesn’t mean that’s going to work for Joe and John. There’s no doubt that when you go down to this personal biology level, it’s not to be scary or violate people’s individual sources of information.

That is why we’ve made this commitment to privacy and why we want to educate people that genetic testing doesn’t have to be scary. All of a sudden, we are saying to Mary, “We really care about you as a human being and want you to achieve the outcomes you desire in order to live the happiest and healthiest life that you possibly can.”

SMR  It’s really inspiring, and it hits close to home in terms of all the things that WELCOA’s been saying about putting the human back into our programs and not forgetting that there’s a human behind all of those numbers that we’re looking at an aggregate level. Actually, I think it’s probably a good segue into demystifying this even more for people. Could one of you walk us through that employee-facing experience? How do people interact with this type of testing?

LB  I think it depends on the individual. But most people absolutely love understanding more about who they are. We are a very personalized society and getting more so all the time. So when you are able to give somebody information about themselves, they tend to do great things with the information. The other thing it does is, knowing some genetic information and knowing what some genetic variations are actually can be very helpful to individual’s psyches. Many times, people will blame their genetics.

We’ve all been in a situation where somebody has said, “I just can’t lose that weight.” Or “You know what? I’ve got high blood pressure. It’s just my genetics.” It becomes a little bit of crutch. Our mission is to help people understand what their genetics are, but also how to move beyond this to recognize what they can do, or take action on specifically.

Education is power. Having people open up and talk about what it is they’ve been able to discover is really important. In some cases, they’ve pulled in a health professional and shared their information. They look like rock stars, because they’re able to use this information to their advantage. It’s really neat when that happens and the light comes on and we get a lot of testimonials from folks that would say, “You know what? I wasn’t intending to use the information like this originally, but I’ve been able to re-create this test and utilize this section more than I thought.”

SMR  It’s really nice to hear about how people go one step further after that initial engagement by taking that report to their dietitian or their physical fitness trainer to keep that conversation going. But I would love for people to get a sense of what the engagement looks like with AGS first. How does it start and how do you collect the sample? How long does it take? What does the reporting look like? Paint that picture for us.

KCS  Because we personalize our programs to meet the needs of each individual organization, we work with the organization to do whatever is best for them and their employed team members. If that means AGS needs to be onsite, we can do that. Many corporate wellness programs already have a health or wellness coach or program administrator we can train to do everything that we would do if we were to come onsite. Our data collection is a simple cheek swab.

We’ve had individuals participate while they’re waiting in line for their biometric screening and we’ve also setup special sessions and days to participate. We can have the administrator of the program always equipped with genetic tests in hand and requisition forms for employed team members to sign so that they can read the AGS privacy policy. We also offer education training for individuals who will be doing either the consulting or implementation of the profiles and test results after they come back. Or we can do that. So again, it’s very flexible. It’s very creative. We flow with the organization and the individual needs and take it from there.

We’re about a two-week turnaround from the time cheek swabs tests hit our office and get sent to our lab. That’s about a third of the time that it takes most companies to return their profiles and results. We’re very proud of the fact that we really expedite that. Once somebody trusts us to run their DNA sample, we want to get that information back into their hands and actionable as quickly as possible. We want to make sure that whatever structure we put into place not only works for the team members and the employees of the organization, but also really works for that unique individual company.

LB  The only other thing that I would add is the ease of the test. The cheek swab is very easy. From time of completion with that and the requisition form, it takes roughly one minute to be able to package it up and get it back to us. Some genetic tests require blood or a spit vial or even urine, which can be detrimental to the collection process. By being able to do something as versatile as a cheek swab (also known as a buccal swab), we’re able to get all the information we need in a very fast and not messy manner back to us so we can get the results back to you.

SMR  No blood. No fasting. The conversation that we are having now is in part about innovative technology that can lead to better experiences—a cheek swab and done. Do you find that employees really enjoy taking advantage of a phone call consultative service if you aren’t onsite? Do you follow up later? Is that something that happens a lot with your corporate wellness solutions?

KCS  Well, absolutely. There’s nothing more powerful than becoming emotionally connected to a report that’s all about you right? I mean, that’s really the goal.

The wonderful thing about a DNA test and a cheek swab is that it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning, noon or night. If it’s when you wake up or when you’re going to bed or what you’ve eaten. We recommend that people rinse their mouth out with a glass of water if they’ve just had a meal or a snack. But like Lance said previously, we’ve had all kinds of cheek swabs come in. All kinds of different ways. We can generally process through everything. But that emotional connection to that profile that’s all about you is very important to us.

Therefore, we have several programs in play that can contribute toward that connection. Our premium report is 34 pages long if printed, so we’re not talking about a one-page report that you’re just going to peruse and then file away in a drawer or a cabinet. We really encourage people to keep copies of their reports on their desk, in their smartphone, or on their computer. My husband and I have our reports hanging on the refrigerator. We may make the same meal, but we load our plates very differently because he matches his meal to his wheel and I match my meal to my wheel.

The consultation is a very valuable piece, but beyond the consultation it’s really guiding people to stay connected to that report for the long haul. We recommend a 12-month process. Because it’s all about habits! It takes three to four weeks to break an old habit or instill a new habit. When you make a commitment, you’re talking about 8, 10, 12 different sections of this report. If you would take a month or six weeks to tackle each section of this report and put it into play then that’s really going to drive your behaviors over the coming year.

The individuals around you are going to notice those results as well. So that’s what we really recommend. We have consultation packages available and can put together unique programs based on the needs of the individual or the organization. Whether they do those consults, or we do those consults, it’s flexible. We’re going to continue to stay in touch with our client via blogs and social media, tips, techniques, recipes and ongoing information, awareness and understanding about their report based on what we continue to learn and the innovations that we discover as well.

This is now a part of your life. This is your unique DNA. This is your “genetic owner’s manual.” I’ll share this with you. I have an editor of a newspaper who did his report and he’s 47 years old. Immediately after the consultation came back, he said, “Everybody needs their genetic owner’s manual at 7 not 47!” That’s really how powerful the report is.

SMR  We’ve talked a lot in this conversation about how you think genetic testing has started to help change the conversation surrounding health and even in the corporate wellness space. I think we’re all used to healthcare dollars spending outcomes as measure of success. I’d love to take a second and ask you guys to get into the outcomes piece. What are people finding and learning and what positive outcomes are individuals seeing?

LB  That’s a great question. Doing a biometric screen, for example, has some results that can change depending on the time of day that you took it, whether a person fasted or not, and over time. Whereas, genetic testing is something that you will have for the rest of your life and the results won’t change. You can do an incredible amount of planning around it from what to focus on by bringing healthy choice improvements in wellness on a monthly, quarterly, yearly base. You can actually use the genetic testing to do that. You can also use it as a reset tool to help figure out what the overall health goals are for your organization. You can take some polls of your employees to figure out what most of the employees want to know. That also helps you figure out what kind of benefits you can bring to them.

We have had organizations, where the large impetus for over 60 percent of the organization was to lose somewhere between 1 and 10 pounds. By aligning with their health coaches and providing genetic testing to this organization, we were able to help them figure out, from a macronutrient perspective some healthier meals they could be looking at. We looked at the percentages of macronutrients, or the best ratios of proteins to carbohydrates to fats, that an individual should be eating.

As you can imagine, one size does not fit all in this genetic direction and planning. Some people needed a much greater percentage of carbohydrate versus someone else. Helping identify what that looks like from a meal perspective helped them do many things. It helped them shape what food was coming in from a catering perspective. Therefore, if they were trying to eat a “healthy lunch” they were able to choose between two different lunches. If one person had a macronutrient wheel that’s set up better for one of the catering styles of food versus the other one, they were able to make that selection.

They were able to come back and determine how well they adhered to their plan from day 1 to 180. They are able to lose an average of about seven pounds over a six-month period just by taking into consideration what the genetic test was telling them. What they found was they were able to use this genetic test for what it was they wanted to use it for, for their original goal, and were they able to get there.

SMR  Weight loss is obviously a very traditional factor that employers are measuring, but the approach that you described is really about getting these employers to understand that one size does not fit all, so they will need to provide many different strategies to their employees to meet the same goal. By doing so, they’re empowering individuals to understand how to leverage that resource.

LB  Another enlightening part was that employers actually found that 40 percent of their employees’ primary goal was not weight loss – there were other athletic performance improvement measures that people wanted to achieve. They had a healthy group of individuals that liked to do triathlons and mud running, and other more social aspects of athletics. They wanted to be able to complete in a 5k or fun run with their team. It shed a lot of light for that organization to recognize, through the addition of genetic testing, their somewhat unrelated goals to genetic testing. Some neat “aha” moments that they, as well as the health coach that they had on staff, were now able to consider.

KCS  We have so many incredible testimonials and case studies that speak about organizations who have health and wellness coaching or corporate wellness programs, who then added a genetic piece and improved cost savings to the organization and the overall outcomes of their employees. We work with individuals of all ages – from infants, children and teenagers – all the way up to the elderly. Men, women. You name it; we have tested them, worked with them, and guided people through the process.

We have worked with all major professional athletic organizations and have some success stories of the moment they took their genetic profile and started adhering to the results, instead of trying to trick the body into doing something it isn’t designed to do. After spending 25 years in the health, wellness, nutrition, fitness and genetic industries, one of the things that’s probably made me personally saddest when I look out into the landscape is the misinformation that’s out there. It is confusing and overwhelming and many individuals are so desperate for results that they’re willing to try just about anything.

What we are trying to illuminate is what is my body telling me it wants me to do? Individuals who go through a consultation and say, “I knew I needed more of this percentage of macronutrient” or “I knew I loved running more, but everybody told me I needed to start running less and start lifting more weights,” when their profile shows that they actually need 70 or 80 percent cardiovascular endurance focused activities and exercises.

Alternatively, individuals who maybe have a food behavior – such as emotional eating, food cravings and/or propensity for a sweet tooth – all of a sudden, they don’t feel crazy anymore. They discover that there’s nothing wrong with them. They just have a genetic predisposition that if we change out a few things in other areas like macronutrients and micronutrients or exercise and beverages, all of a sudden those things start to take care of themselves. They feel better, happier, and healthier. They have more energy, they’re sleeping better at night, and they’ve finally dropped those extra five pounds. When we help individuals tap into their uniqueness, it unleashes all of the possibilities that help people become better versions of themselves. Let’s stop tricking our bodies or trying a whole slew of fads and experiments. Let’s get down into the nitty gritty of who you are and really start tapping into your potential.

SMR  I get really excited when I hear about that very hopeful language for how our wellness programs can help employees. That’s where the magic happens. This is obviously a very innovative space. I know you said that new genetic information is being discovered all the time and you’re understanding more and more about impact that our genes have on our health. What’s next for AGS? What are you really excited about?

LB  First, and foremost, we are continuing to improve and evolve the two tests that we have available, like adding in the newest genes regarding stress and stress management. We will continue to evolve that as more information becomes available in the health and wellness space. We have some newer panels focused on preventive care. We have a cardiovascular preventive panel and a pre-diabetic test coming out as well, which is very important in the United States.

We also have a test coming out regarding skin health; the largest organ in the body. Many people are wondering what they can do with their skin every day. Once again, one size does not fit all when it comes to skin care, skin health and improving or sustaining the health of our skin as we age.

The last area of focus that we will be looking at is gut health and the microbiome that is associated inside the gut. It’s a real measurement of overall health and looking at what we can do with probiotics or, from a health and nutrition standpoint, make sure that we are keeping our gut as healthy as possible as well.

Once again, we focus in this area of health and wellness and we really want to make sure that whatever we do to extend our testing stays in that area where we can give individuals an actionable and empowering plan to use their own genetic information to further their own health pursuits. This gives us an opportunity in some cases to work either more closely with some of the companies that we’re working with or for the first time maybe work with some newer companies to get into the genetic testing arena. So, we’re excited about bringing some of these to light and really feel that the combination of what we have now and what we will be bringing within the next 12 months will really resonate with employers to help create healthier work environments and employees.

SMR  If I am an individual who wants to gain access to this information about myself personally or I am an employer who is inspired to provide more innovative resources, what are my next steps?

LB  The easiest thing to do would be to contact us through our website, www.ags-health.com. There is an amazing amount of information on there about what we do and where we are heading with this genetic health and wellness program. There are multiple ways to do some of your own exploration on this information or to contact us. You can download information and other published studies, which have been critical to the direction we are going. One of our genetic specialists will contact you and provide more information to start tailoring a package for whatever it is you may be looking for as an individual or employer group.

 

For more information about Advanced Genomics Solutions, visit ags-health.com.

 

Definitions:

Human Genome Project: https://www.genome.gov/10001772/all-about-the–human-genomeproject-hgp/

Correlative data; A relationship exists between two variables

SNPs – Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/genomicresearch/snp

DNA – Deoxyribonucleic Acid: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/basics/dna

Macronutrient and micronutrient: https://mynutrition.wsu.edu/nutrition-basics/

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