13 Mar Human or Technology – GeneLinx
In a short mini-series we have been asking our startups who present at Demo Day 2023 about which humans or technology has inspired them along their journey. Today we discuss what inspired Alekhya Narravula to found GeneLinx, with a goal to educate and enable individuals to utilize their genetic information to make informed health decisions.
Alekhya has always loved history and biology and, for her, genetics is at the intersection of both. “For what are genes if not fascinating stories of families encoded in DNA passed on from generation to generation?”
“Over the years, I have been intrigued and inspired by several stories in the field of genetics – Mendel’s methodical pea crosses, Rosalind Franklin’s Photograph 51 that confirmed the structure of DNA, the race to sequence the whole human genome and the CRISPR saga in recent years.”
“I trained as a genetic counselor during an exciting time for genetics – the human genome had been sequenced; new sequencing technologies were making diagnostic testing cheaper, faster and more accessible; and novel drugs and therapies for genetic diseases were being approved for clinical use.”
“However, although we are at a point where genetic information can help us practice preventive and personalized medicine and reduce healthcare costs in all specialties – from reproductive decisions to management of diseases like cancer and determining optimal drugs and dosages – due to a potential lack of education and awareness among the population and physicians, genetic information is not being utilised to its full clinical potential.”
Genetic counselors are trained to bridge this exact knowledge gap. This led her to found GeneLinx – to help mainstream genetic counseling and the usage of genetic information in healthcare across all specialties.
Alekhya has the following historical story to drive home the importance of how a single inherited spelling error in one’s DNA can literally change the course of history. And if there was appropriate counseling, testing and the therapies like we have today, maybe the outcomes would have been very different.
This is the story of how Haemophilia, an X-linked genetic disorder that severely affects only males and causes bleeding due to poor clotting, indirectly led to the Russian Revolution and potentially the First World War and the downfall of multiple royal houses in Europe. Alekhya shares, “Queen Victoria likely carried and passed on Haemophilia to her descendants and this led to the death of one son and five grandsons.”
“Her great-grandson, Prince Alexei, the heir to the Russian throne, also had Hemophilia and his supposed healer, Rasputin, wielded immense power and was disliked by the people. It is likely that he was one of the causes for the downfall of the Romanov royal family and the Bolshevik Revolution. “Inherited diseases have huge consequences for individuals, families and even the entire world. There are many such instances of genetic conditions throughout history. It makes you ask yourself, what is running through your own family and if there is anything you can do about it”
“I find this story fascinating because it really shows the importance of people being aware of their genetic risks so they can change the course of their lives for the better. It helps showcase why it is important to learn about potential testing options and the implications for you and your family. At Demo Day (on March 28, 2023) I’m most looking forward to creating this kind of awareness. With all the technological advancements we have today, I believe that the time is now to move towards a preventive healthcare model, reduce healthcare costs and use our genetics to make informed healthcare choices.”