Learn About Yourself as You Participate in Research

Genes for Good is a University of Michigan study where participants help understand human health and disease, while learning about their genetic ancestry and their daily health habits and comparing themselves to other participants.

A few weeks ago, we rolled out a much improved Discover section in our app, which helps you discover patterns you might have missed in your daily routine and learn how you compare to others. It includes a series of new graphs and displays, like the one accompanying this post, which compares my alcohol use to that of other study participants.

Genes For Good "Discover" Section

The left side of the graph shows me that I drink a bit more than the average participant in the study, but a similar amount to other participants like me (hmm... I wonder what we have in common!). According to another panel, I can see that I have been teetotal for the last week, so perhaps things are on the mend.

The panels on the right show that my drinking pattern follows a regular pattern with heavier drinking on Friday and Saturday nights and much less drinking on Sunday nights. I have always liked to think of myself as original, but - in this case - the pattern is quite typical of other adults participating in the study.

These patterns and their seasonal variation are hard to capture in typical research studies, which often have to rely on one-off alcohol use survey. In a research study like Genes for Good, which is hosted on Facebook and which I can easily visit regularly, I can build this daily pattern gradually, answering a couple of questions when I am on Facebook and have a few minutes to spare.

The picture that emerges is very detailed and we hope it will help us understand the relationship between genetics, habits (like Friday night drinking) and health outcomes (like sleep quality, cancer, or obesity). In principle, this rich data should help us eventually go far beyond simple associations like those connecting alcohol flushing responses to certain genetic variants, to much richer and detailed understanding of how our genes and habits influence our health.

The ultimate goal? Studies of habits, health and disease help understand how our body works and can provide clues that will help design the medicines and treatments of the future. To get quality answers, it is important to start with quality information and one of the key goals of genes for good is to get much more precise information about health habits of 10,000s of people than traditional studies can provide.

With these new health tracking displays, we hope participants will also have a peek at how they compare to others -- and that, as they complete these short surveys about their daily habits, they take the time not only to share information with us, but to also learn a little about themselves.