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Alumni & Friends

It's In Her Genes

Image of Judith BluntJudith Blunt of 23andMe, a company that aims to be “the world’s trusted source of personal genetic information.” Her holiday gift recommendation: a 23andMe DNA spit kit.

 

Anyone can Google Judith Blunt’s (M.S., ’86) genome. She’s shared this intimate genetic code in the hopes that her data, combined with code from thousands of others as part of the Personal Genome Project, can usher in a revolutionary era in medicine.


Her motivations are both professional and personal. Since receiving her clinical/biomedical science degree at SF State, Blunt has worked for a number of in vitro diagnostic companies, most recently the personal genetics company 23andMe (The name refers to our 23 pairs of chromosomes). But she also has type 1 diabetes and a rare heart condition called long QT syndrome.


“I feel like it’s my responsibility to be one of the guinea pigs,” Blunt says, “in researching new ways to understand these diseases.”


Blunt directs regulatory affairs and quality assurance at 23andMe, ensures the company’s compliance with both federal and state regulations, and monitors the quality of its products and procedures. People explore their genetic information through 23andMe for a variety of reasons, Blunt says.


“A significant proportion of our customers are interested in ancestry and genealogy, and with our huge database it’s a great opportunity to be in touch with potential relatives,” she notes. “But it’s interesting that people may come in with an interest in ancestry and then find out something about their health that is useful for them, and they become enthusiastic about that part of the service as well.”


Blunt worked in several diagnostic laboratories as she pursued her master’s degree, helping to develop some of the first diagnostic tests for hepatitis C and HIV-1. She appreciates that she could pursue her degree at SF State while working full time, which, she says “gave me the ability to do things in my career that I don’t think otherwise I would have been able to do.”


Working at 23andMe keeps her connected to cutting-edge diagnostics. While the company maintains strict and personalized privacy controls on its customers’ data, she hopes more people will share their genetic code anonymously for research purposes. “For genetics to really become the next big thing in medicine we need lots of numbers, we need a large amount of genetic information. And the prospects for that are very exciting.


“In the next 10 to 20 years, personalized medicine could improve the health of a lot of people,” Blunt says. “My hope is that we’ll have a big part in that.”

 
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