23andMe Research Innovation Collaborations Program

Overview

In addition to providing direct-to-consumer genetic testing through the 23andMe® Service, 23andMe endeavors to advance biomedical science through genetic research.

Some of those discoveries have and will come from our own scientists, but others will come from collaborations with academic researchers.

The 23andMe Research Innovation Collaborations Program pairs up academic researchers with 23andMe scientists to perform analyses. Through this program, academic researchers can access de-identified, aggregated data from the 23andMe Research Cohort.

The 23andMe database is a rich resource, with genotypic and phenotypic information from more than 5 million of our customers, 80 percent of whom consent to participate in 23andMe Research. By consenting to participate, our customers agree to make their de-identified genetic data available for study in aggregate and take part in online research under a protocol approved by an external institutional review board (IRB). These research participants also answer online survey questions on a variety of topics, and to date have contributed over 2 billion phenotypic data points.

 

Recent Collaboration Highlights

Over the years, we have participated in dozens of collaborations with academic institutions on a wide variety of topics. Here are select examples of projects we are currently pursuing or have recently completed:

  • In collaboration with Neal Sondheimer and Andrew Paterson at The Hospital for Sick Children, 23andMe implemented a method to quantify variability in mitochondrial DNA sequence within individuals, and identified regions associated with higher degrees of variability. 
  • 23andMe scientists are working with Anne Giersch at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a team of scientists at the hearX group to study the genetics of age-related hearing impairment using a custom survey and an online hearing test. 
  • We have investigated the genetics and heritability of musical rhythm, in collaboration with Reyna Gordon and a team of investigators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 
  • 23andMe is collaborating with the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium to complete the largest multi-ethnic GWAS of major depressive disorder to date. Aggregate-level data from 23andMe participants of European, African American, Latino, and Asian ancestry will contribute to the analysis.

Our research team has published or collaborated on over 150 scientific papers. For a complete list, visit our Publications page.

 

What type of collaboration is of interest to 23andMe?

We seek collaborators with complementary datasets, expertise, and analytic techniques to work with 23andMe scientists to enable new genetic discoveries. In this application cycle, we are especially interested in proposals that reflect the following themes:

Gene-environment interactions (GxE) for wellness traitsLeveraging the full spectrum of human genetic diversity
The goal of GxE collaborations will be to characterize the interplay of genetic and environmental (especially wellness-related) factors in health and disease, powered by the scale of 23andMe’s phenotypic and genomic data.

Topics of interest for GxE collaborations include:
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep
  • Physical activity
  • Psychosocial factors (e.g. stress, social connections, leisure activities)
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Environmental exposures (e.g. air pollution)
Example GxE collaborations could involve:
  • Developing and testing GxE hypotheses using existing 23andMe data
  • Replication of GxE findings from other cohorts in existing 23andMe data
  • Participation in ongoing GxE consortia
Genetic diversity collaborations will focus on population, molecular, and medical genetics of understudied populations in the 23andMe database, including groups with African, South/Central Asian, or Latino ancestry.

Topics of interest for diversity collaborations include:
  • Polygenic risk scores, and their validity and application across populations
  • Studies of conditions or traits that are relevant to understudied populations
  • Population substructure
  • Population history
  • PheWAS of suspected functional variants in understudied populations
  • GxE discovery or replication focused on suspected functional variants

 

What data can be found in the 23andMe database?

We have collected genotypic and phenotypic data from more than 5 million customers, over 80% of whom have consented to allow their aggregate, de-identified data to be used for research. Phenotypic data is self-reported by 23andMe research participants who have responded to surveys or completed web-based assessments provided through 23andMe’s Services. A supplement with an overview of the types of phenotype data we collect can be found here.

 

How diverse in the 23andMe dataset?

23andMe has enrolled large research cohorts representing diverse populations who have been genotyped and phenotyped, and have consented to participate in research. We welcome collaborators who contribute complementary datasets or methodological expertise to leverage these data and enable genetic research and discovery that is equitable for all.

 

Racial or ethnic category*Approximate number of participants**
Latino820,000
African American278,000
East Asian219,000
Middle Eastern52,000
South Asian51,000
Other245,000

*Race and ethnicity categories inferred from genetic data are highly correlated with self-reported race and ethnicity; here we use genetic ancestry as a proxy for self-reported race & ethnicity.

**Participant numbers as of February, 2019

 

Application Process

We accept applications from academic researchers on a rolling basis. In June and December, we hold a scientific review to evaluate proposals for the limited number of collaborative projects we can initiate. Applicants are informed of our committee decision approximately three months after the deadline. By opening this opportunity to the greater scientific community, we hope to widen our perspective, spark new innovation, and generate meaningful discoveries from the 23andMe database beyond what we can accomplish on our own.

 

Who can apply?

  • Institutions can be domestic or foreign, public or private, but must be non-commercial and the research must also be for non-commercial purposes
  • Researchers may be at any stage of their careers. Applications submitted by a group of researchers at the same institution will also be considered.

 

How do I apply?

Your application will include the following information:

  • A research proposal summary, which will be made public if the proposal is accepted (no more than 500 words)
  • A description of the proposed research project (no more than 2,000 words)
  • A description of unique datasets or analytic tools that your research group has developed and will provide for the collaboration. Researchers should include a description of the IRB-approved protocol used to collect the dataset, if applicable (a total of no more than 1,000 words)
  • A list of co-investigators and other personnel
  • A list of collaborating institutions
  • An NIH-style biosketch or CV for the principal investigator.

Submit your application using the following form by December 12, 2019:

Research Innovation Collaborations Application Form

 

How will applications be evaluated?

Applications will be evaluated by 23andMe scientists based on the following considerations:

  1. Scientific quality and innovativeness of the project proposed
  2. Expertise of and resources available to the investigators
  3. Alignment with 23andMe company objectives
  4. Quality and value of any complementary datasets, methodologies, or concepts that the investigators will share

 

Additional Information and Requirements

  • 23andMe data will be shared in aggregate (rather than individual level) and cannot be distributed, shared, or sold to third parties
  • Chosen collaborators will receive non-exclusive access to the data
  • Collaborators must agree that the results of their research will be published in open-access scientific journals (or open-access articles) and according to 23andMe’s publication best practices. Currently, those best practices only allow for the publication of summary statistics for up to 10,000 SNPs; this applies to meta-analyses that include 23andMe data
  • Collaborators may not file for intellectual property rights covering the results of this collaborative research
  • 23andMe may request that collaborators meet with 23andMe (in person or by phone) to discuss the research
  • Please note that this collaboration will not cover the cost of additional data collection or fees for making an article open-access
  • To enable 23andMe’s collaboration and data transfer each collaborator and their institution must enter into a Data Transfer Agreement with 23andMe, which includes the above terms and other requirements

Interested in replicating your GWAS findings?

If you have performed a GWAS and would like a 23andMe scientist to test if your significant associations replicate in the 23andMe Research Cohort, please initiate your request by completing a replication request form (link below). We can typically complete replication requests within several weeks.

Please consider the following when submitting a replication request:

  • 23andMe will perform look-up of index SNPs that reached genome-wide significance in your dataset in an identical or similar phenotype in the 23andMe Research Cohort.
  • 23andMe will only share summary statistics for your index SNPs. If you would like to receive full GWAS summary statistics, please apply to the Research Innovation Collaboration program.

Replication Request Form

Other Types of Collaborations

The following types of requests are reviewed on a rolling basis rather than in the review process that occurs twice a year:

  • Populations Collaborations Program. If you seek to genotype a population that is under-represented in genetic studies, learn more about this program here.
  • Publication Dataset Access. If you are interested in accessing de-identified summary statistics from a dataset included in a 23andMe publication, learn more here.

 

About protecting customer privacy

Protecting the privacy of our research participants is of critical importance to 23andMe. Data sharing is structured to provide the same robust privacy protections that 23andMe research participants have as part of their normal participation in 23andMe Research. Only data from 23andMe customers who have accepted 23andMe’s IRB-approved consent document will be incorporated into any analysis. Only de-identified, aggregate data will be shared – no individual level data will be shared. All applicants should take this policy into consideration when designing the research approach.

Any data sharing will take place in accordance with the terms of the 23andMe Data Transfer Agreement between a collaborator, the collaborator’s institution, and 23andMe. Any actions taken by our collaborators that threaten the privacy of 23andMe research participants are grounds for termination of the collaboration and to other remedies described in such agreement.

If you have questions, please contact the Research Innovation Collaborations team (apply.research@23andme.com).