(Genetic) Information is power

(Genetic) Information is power

  1. Who is Zoë Milgrom?

I’m 37, married to Adam, and together we have two delicious boys, Noah and Asher. I am passionate about great food, experiencing nature through my kids’ eyes, and am the co-founder and chief clinical officer at Eugene Labs.

  1. What is Eugene Labs?

Eugene is a genetics and health service empowering people with expert, convenient and compassionate healthcare. Our at-home genetic tests and in-app counselling help people make important and timely healthcare choices.

Our first product/service is genetic carrier screening designed to help identify couples or individuals who are at-risk of having a child with an inherited genetic condition that will significantly affect their quality of life. This testing is not designed to diagnose the couple with a disease, but rather to predict the risk for their children. Our panel includes all the conditions which are more prevalent in the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities as well as many hundreds which are prevalent across all ethnic groups.

We also offer testing to couples who have recently found out they are expecting – although if found to be at-risk, this can prove challenging.

Carrier screening is available directly through eugenelabs.com and we have already seen incredible demand and positive feedback from our users and referring doctors.

In the future we will also offer tests, which help individuals plan for their own future health risks including familial cancer and cardiac risk.

  1. What was the motivation behind starting Eugene Labs?

We started Eugene to create the kind of healthcare experience that we’d want for ourselves and our loved ones.

Having worked across the private and public healthcare systems over the last 10 years, I was acutely aware of the rapid changes in genetic technologies. Not only what information could be obtained from different techniques, but how those results could shape the way people perceived themselves, their relationships within their families, and their future health risks, and how all of this impacted the way people thought about family planning.

Working within a clinical setting was interesting because we were always meeting families touched by the rarest of diseases, and we were there to support them as they learnt about the diagnosis, adjusted to a new future and created a new ‘normal’. As a young genetic counsellor I found myself in the position of supporting families making huge life and death decisions during crisis.

Now that I have two children of my own, the enormity of losing a child has become much more real. I wanted to be part of a future where I could help couples avoid being in a position of having to face losing a child, a position that technology could have prevented. I also know that life is busy. We are working harder and longer hours and finding the time to visit a GP, specialist or obstetrician as part of family planning is challenging, especially when the messages we are given is that genetic risks are low and that we are otherwise healthy.

Eugene opens up access for everyone, everywhere – no matter who you are or where you live – to gain access to the most advanced genetic testing in a supportive, ethical and affordable way. We support people directly or facilitate testing via doctor referrals.

We are passionate about ensuring all ethnic minorities have access to relevant genetic testing.

Being Jewish and having grown up with an awareness of carrier screening through the Tay Sachs carrier screening program, I was perhaps even more aware how fortunate I was to have a community that supported and advocated for genetic awareness. This is not the case in other cultural groups. When someone chooses to have genetic carrier screening with Eugene, they know that regardless of ethnicity, religious beliefs or family history, we will ensure that all people gain access to relevant actionable testing.

  1. Is it a challenge being a female entrepreneur?

There is a big push in the start-up world to create more products by women and for women. I have friends and colleagues creating amazing products and services that empower women in the world of financial fitness, health and wellness, sustainable fashion, STEM and education.

There are obvious challenges for female entrepreneurs, which are well documented. It’s important that we continue to support and nurture these women and help them overcome these challenges and reach their goals.

As a woman, mother, wife and start-up founder who wants to excel in all areas, taking the plunge into entrepreneurial life has been a challenging journey so far but it’s also incredibly rewarding.

  1. Why do you feel access to genetic testing is important?

I feel passionately about everyone having access to genetic testing provided they are aware of the potential outcomes of testing, prepared for the potential impact of the results, and are well-supported throughout the process.

Genetic risk isn’t something we should ignore, even though sometimes the results can forecast serious health issues in the future. I am mindful that the decision should be personal and should not come without clear, up-to-date information that enables each and every individual to make the right decisions for them.

As Jewish women, there is an increasing awareness and conversation around breast cancer risk. With 1 in 40 Ashkenazi women at risk of carrying a breast-cancer gene (BRCA) variation, it is imperative that as a community we support everyone’s right to access safe and supported testing.

Zoë Milgrom is the co-founder and chief clinical officer at Eugene Labs. For more information, visit eugenelabs.com

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