The Health Diaries

How Genetic Testing Changed This CEO’s Lifestyle

Color CEO Othman Laraki is a carrier for a gene that increases the risk for breast cancer

There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.

OOthman Laraki is a father, husband, avid cyclist, and runner. But he’s also a health visionary who believes that knowing your DNA profile can make all the difference in creating healthy habits that stick. That’s why Laraki co-founded Color, a population health technology company, in 2015.

The company partners with several organizations, including some of the world’s top health systems, to help manage the health of large groups of people. In January, Color announced a partnership with NorthShore University HealthSystem with the goal of providing thousands of people with whole genome sequencing to understand their risks for certain hereditary conditions, and help NorthShore personalize its patient care and improve overall outcomes.

Laraki says Color set out to reduce barriers to clinical grade genetic testing by “reimagining the way these services are delivered to large populations.” The company built a lab and used innovative software and robotics to remove process inefficiencies, making it easy for people to order their services online. “Now everybody has the ability to provide a saliva sample from home and we offer genetic counseling sessions over the phone after you get the results, all for less than $250,” says Laraki. “Armed with new tools and delivery models, we are now in the midst of redefining healthcare to a system based on prevention and early action.”

Laraki shares with Medium his personal health genetics discoveries, as well as his “classically Silicon Valley” health habits and his struggle to maintain work-life balance.

I have three young boys under the age of 6. So, we usually have a small-human alarm clock that goes off around 5:30 a.m. Otherwise, I’m up for a run or bike ride by 5:45 a.m. at the behest of a digital alarm clock.

The first thing I do after I wake up is check my email, calendar, and the temperature outside (which is never that bad, given that we live in Northern California).

When it comes to eating, I sound like a walking Silicon Valley stereotype. I eat mostly gluten-free and relatively little red meat, but otherwise, I attempt to keep a balanced diet and minimize snacks, aside from something sweet with the afternoon coffee. I also take a daily baby aspirin, vitamin D3, and fish oil.

On an average day, I’m working from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Then, I break for family dinner and the kids’ bedtime before going back online around 9 p.m. until 11 p.m. to midnight.

Running and cycling are my two primary activities. I am also an avid kitesurfer, but I have not had much time for it over the past couple of years, between work and family life.

When it comes to work-life balance, alas, there are too many things to do on both fronts such that I feel I am often not doing either justice (which I am sure is a common feeling).

Sleep isn’t important to me, but should be. Something’s gotta give.

I spent the majority of my career in tech, starting a number of software companies and working on products at Google and Twitter. Unfortunately, I lost my grandmother to breast cancer and my mother survived two bouts of it. After the second diagnosis, she was tested and found out she is a carrier for a genetic mutation in the BRCA2 gene that greatly increases her risk for breast and ovarian cancer. I, too, was tested and discovered that I am a carrier of that mutation. These mutations likely resulted in breast cancer in both my mother and grandmother, but they only found out after their diagnosis, whereas knowing early could have prevented them in the first place.

For years, accessing potentially life saving information through clinical grade genetic testing was prohibitively expensive. It cost thousands of dollars and required multiple in-person visits to a physician’s office. These barriers put this information out of reach for the vast majority of people and prevented anyone who manages the health of large populations from having a deeper understanding of individualized risk, connecting that risk to smarter decisions, and using those decisions to inspire better outcomes.

Your genome holds useful information that can help you and your health care provider make smarter decisions so you can live a healthier life. For example, there are concrete actions you can take if you know you are at a higher risk for a hereditary condition like cancer or heart disease such as earlier and more frequent screenings. Moreover, every day, around the world, millions of people take the wrong medications and suffer adverse or sometimes lethal reactions. We chalk most of this up to “bad luck,” yet those bad reactions are anything but. Understanding your genetics can help your provider ensure you’re taking the right medication and dosage.

One of the core challenges facing health care today is managing data and human behavior, not science and economics. Through genomics, wearables, and digitally connected consumers, we can generate a health “signal” at a scale we never thought possible. And with advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, we have the ability to use all this data for good. We can predict, prevent, and treat disease more effectively.

I write essays, test products & produce content marketing for brands. I’m also a career coach for freelancers and the co-host of The Writers’ Co-op podcast.

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