April 19, 2003 was a significant day in history. As researchers at the Human Genome Project announced that they had sequenced the entire human DNA, it seemed as if a bright new light has been turned on. At the same time, a smaller light turned itself on in the head of Saleem Mohammed.
Armed with a doctorate in bioinformatics, this young Chennaivasi saw immense potential in that sequencing. What followed was a long story, but suffice it to say that the result was Lifelong Wellness, a DNA-based wellness programme that is aimed at identifying and preventing genetic predispositions for certain diseases (such as diabetes, for instance,) into serious disorders.
XCODE Life Sciences, a biotech start-up Dr. Saleem helped set up, was initially in the Vellore Institute of Technology-Technology Business Incubator, with funding from the Department of Science and Technology. So what does XCODE do?
“The company, through its extensive research on DNA and genome mapping, will aim to provide personalised, professional and reliable information for health and wellness enthusiasts,” Dr. Saleem says. Currently, when you sign up with XCODE (http://xcode.in), they will send home a container in which you can collect your saliva and send it back to them.
“A DNA assessment gives you an insight into the various predispositions that your genes can result in. The fact that you can prevent or delay the health condition means you are on the safer side. We specifically screen you for the following lifestyle conditions through your saliva: Diabetes (Type 1 and 2); obesity; cardio vascular diseases (heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, hypertension, coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation); and stroke,” Dr. Saleem explains. Now an assessment costs Rs.10,000.
The samples are sent to a laboratory in Hyderabad for testing, and on the basis of the genetic testing results, XCODE’s unique algorithm calculates an individual’s risk. “It is personalised healthcare, as far as we can take it now. We have trained genetic and nutrition counsellors to give clients the results of their tests. Some of the stuff, if wrongly interpreted, can be scary. Remember, these are all lifestyle diseases; even a genetic propensity can be countered through a healthy lifestyle,” he adds.
The algorithm has been developed in-house. “It takes into account the various markers for a particular condition. For instance, there are about 80 markers for diabetes. We are now looking at markers for cancer and also working on a neurological panel. These will be addition to the tests in the future.”
Currently, nutrition and fitness consults are available, and a mobile wellness programme, through which tailored health messages are sent as text messages periodically, is part of the package.