For years, Western YouTubers have been racking up views by taking DNA tests and sharing the process and results with their audience. Is that craze finally hitting Malaysia?
Dr Rachna Kairon seems to think so. And her opinion holds weight, seeing as she’s an experienced pathologist, microbiologist, and the CEO of Synapse, a healthcare group in Malaysia that’s just launched a DNA test kit called myPreciseDNA.
“If I had a way, [myPreciseDNA] would have been here 18 years ago,” Dr Rachna told Vulcan Post when we visited their lab. “But then, of course, from the corporate side and the financial side and the business point of view, there were some limitations.”
On top of that, she believes that the delay is partially due to the Malaysian market’s readiness (or lack thereof) to accept the technology.
It also depends on the market’s purchasing power, the availability of technology, the education of the population, and the awareness of the DNA test kit’s value, among other factors.
“I believe Malaysia is more than ready now,” Dr Rachna said. “And I don’t see myPreciseDNA as just a Malaysian product. I view it as a global product. We’re certainly trying to capture the ASEAN and potentially the Asian market first.”
It’s not the first, though
Dr Rachna certainly has big plans for myPreciseDNA, but as we know, DNA testing isn’t new. In fact, it isn’t even new in Malaysia.
But how Synapse’s offerings might differ from the likes of Advanx Health, is their establishment in the healthcare industry.
Synapse was incorporated in 2006 and has experience with specialised medical testing services through another company Dr Rachna co-founded, Nexus Medilabs. They have even established a skills-based training company called Medic Skills.
Plus, they have another healthcare-related project that’s in the works right now. With so many healthcare ventures under Dr Rachna’s belt, this begged the question: why though?
“One of the missions of Synapse is to set up reference technologies that can change the nature of conventional healthcare,” she shared. “I’m not just content to sit with mundane technology.”
Swabbing trait secrets
With myPreciseDNA, there’s no spitting involved. Essentially, the DNA test uses an oral swab, something many of us have gotten familiar with recently.
Once you’re done with the steps, you simply contact the courier provider listed on the kit, who will come to pick it up. It takes 15 to 20 days for the results to be processed.
You’ll then receive your DNA profile with 128 traits to explore, from personality to genetic health conditions. According to the myPreciseDNA website, the report also comes with “extensive descriptions and recommendations to help you understand the results and make lifestyle changes.”
But if you still struggle to understand your results, myPreciseDNA offers the service of a genetic counsellor who will walk you through them in better detail for RM1,250.
The myPreciseDNA test kit itself is RM900 without discounts, and it’s available for delivery nationwide.
“We worked very hard to make it very affordable,” Dr Rachna shared. “And it is such a hard thing to do when you’re looking at this kind of technology.”
The most similar test kit from Advanx Health, the DNA Explorer Prime, which gives 124 comprehensive insights, is RM 1,599 without discounts.
Investing in your health
The novelty of DNA test kits, in the beginning, was the ancestry factor. People were curious to learn about their lineage and racial history.
Now, the trend seems to have shifted to wellness. DNA test kits are often marketed as something responsible and healthy people do.
And no, there’s no such thing as being “too young for DNA testing”. Dr Rachna is of the opinion that even babies should get tested.
“There are a lot of diseases that do get affected by your environment and lifestyle,” she explained. “But the genes that you’re born with that make you more at risk to develop a disease over a lifetime—you are born with them. That’s something that lives with you for life.”
Dr Rachna refers to your genetic information as genetic gold. She believes that if you have that information early on, it’s like knowing your “ba-zi,” a Chinese astrological concept that determines a person’s destiny or fate.
“It’s like a blueprint of your life,” she continued. “You can be a better person of yourself.”
My private DNA
Something that may hold consumers back from doing these tests though is the protection of their genetic privacy. After all, popular DNA-testing companies like 23andMe have sold genetic data to drugmakers before.
Dr Rachna reassured us, “We have put in checks and balances aside from terms and conditions to ensure that no one misuses your information.”
But myPreciseDNA focuses on health. They recommend their own genetic counsellors, who might in turn recommend specific supplements for you. Who is to say Synapse is not benefitting from it? While these are all just possibilities, it’s not an unfounded fear.
When in doubt then, you should consult your personal healthcare provider. “We always recommend you to go back to your clinician,” Dr Rachna pointed out. “Don’t make unilateral decisions and don’t just read your report and interpret it yourself, and ask unqualified people to guide you.”
We were able to visit Synapse’s labs in PJ. Dr Jeannie Soe, a lab manager, showed us around, explaining that the work done for myPreciseDNA is actually quite manual at this point in time.
However, Dr Rachna told us that it’s not impossible to automate the process in the future, as long as they have the finances.
When we asked about whether their current equipment is sourced from overseas, Dr Rachna was quick to correct us.
“It’s very much from Malaysia,” she said proudly. “I personally feel there’s a lot of talent, equipment, and technology available here. It’s just not being harnessed, but it’s all here.”
Dr Rachna feels strongly about giving Malaysians the opportunity to showcase their talent. In fact, she hinted to Vulcan Post about an upcoming launch from Synapse—a digital healthcare company she hopes will put Malaysia on the map.
For now, myPreciseDNA is focused on educating the public. While the test kit is a B2C product, the team is working closely with the medical community, with many of Synapse’s clinic partners interested in the product.
“It’s only going to get more and more visible,” Dr Rachna expressed. “We feel that maybe through this mix of education, awareness, and pricing, we can make society conscious enough to get the test and genuinely improve their health.”
Featured Image Credit: myPreciseDNA