Every time you log in to your social media accounts, catch up with friends and family, or even speak to your doctor, you’ll probably hear about a new health regimen, super-food or exercise routine that will supposedly help you achieve the body of your dreams. Some are scams and others are newfangled trends, but many others are backed by peer-reviewed studies. Yet, a disappointing narrative runs in between the newspaper clippings, high-pitched testimonials and influencer videos—‘It didn’t work for me’. And the reason for that is, as cliched as this sounds, that everybody is different, every body is unique, and what may work for one may very well not work for another.
But what if you could make a meaningful difference in your health, well-being and life? What if you knew exactly what to eat, how to exercise and which areas of your lifestyle needs improvement—because it’s all based on data, reports and insights that are 100 per cent by you and for you? That’s where a DNA test comes in, and that’s the mission of CircleDNA.
Now, some of you may already be perturbed. There’s a stigma and/or stereotype among Asians that we avoid going to the doctor or getting a health check-up because we’re afraid of what the results may show. ‘Ignorance is bliss’, after all. “We understand that some may be hesitant to try a DNA test due to cultural or societal beliefs. However, we firmly believe that knowledge is power,” says Joel Neoh, Managing Director of CircleDNA. “Our goal is to empower people with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their health. With our DNA tests and personalised health reports, we are revolutionising the way people approach their health and well-being. We also take great care to ensure that our testing process is safe, secure and non-invasive, and we are confident that once people try our tests, they will see the value in what we offer. So if you want to truly understand your health at the deepest level possible, then CircleDNA is the way to go.”
CircleDNA is a global genomics company under Prenetics Global Limited, which wants to empower people everywhere to take control of their health with comprehensive insights, all provided from the most personal yet all-encompassing data source there is—their DNA.
“A DNA test is a type of genetic test that examines a person’s DNA, which is the genetic material that determines our physical characteristics and biological functions,” explains Dr Lawrence Tzang, PhD, chief scientific officer & co-founder of Prenetics. “This test involves taking a sample of a person’s DNA, typically through a buccal swab sample, and testing it by using Whole Exome Sequencing (WES) technology as well as analysing it in our accredited laboratory to identify specific genetic variants that are associated with various health conditions or traits.”
Powered by WES technology, CircleDNA’s tests provide clients with more than 500 reports, insights and recommendations from 31 million data points. Through some simple swabs of the mouth, clients can find out their genetic risks for health concerns such as cancer or other diseases as well as carrier conditions that run in the family. They will also receive one-on-one consultation sessions with a trained healthcare professional to discuss their DNA test results, in addition to their personalised diet profiles, nutritional requirements and recommended exercise routines.
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A revolution in healthcare
Danny Yeung is, by every definition, a successful entrepreneur. A co-founder of CircleDNA and Prenetics, he began his entrepreneurial journey at age 25, and his ventures since then include familiar names such as Groupon and Hui Lau Shan, just to name a couple. For a guy whose life motto is ‘play hard, work harder’, he understandably was working round the clock, bringing products to market and transforming start-ups into unicorns. But several years ago, he decided to take a DNA test. It rocked his world—Yeung found out that he was at high risk of developing colorectal cancer. “It was a wake-up call,” Yeung remembers. “If I hadn’t taken that DNA test, I might not have realised the importance of preventive care until it was too late. I might have continued to take my health for granted and not made the changes necessary to reduce my risk of cancer. It’s a sobering thought and it reinforces my belief in the power of DNA testing to transform healthcare.”
Neoh also took a DNA test a few years ago, before joining CircleDNA, and he was mightily impressed with the data and reports that came back. “It was an incredibly enlightening experience and it inspired me to get involved in the healthcare industry and to help others understand their health at a deeper level,” Neoh says. “One of the unexpected benefits of taking a DNA test is that it can actually be a fun and engaging experience. Many people—like me, when I took the test—are surprised by the amount of information that can be gleaned from a simple saliva sample, and the insights they receive can be eye-opening and thought-provoking. Also, many of our customers enjoy sharing their results with friends and family members, which can lead to interesting conversations and deeper connections.”
One of CircleDNA’s customers is Yanfang, a 36-year-old woman (her name has been changed for privacy reasons). She took CircleDNA’s Premium DNA Test as she has family history of breast cancer and heart health problems. As the Premium DNA Test provides the most comprehensive reports—such as cancer risk, ancestry, dementia and brain health, nutrition, stress and sleep, behavioural traits, success traits, well-being and more—she felt it was well worth the investment. Although her reports showed that she didn’t have any increased genetic risk for cancer, they revealed that she was at risk of developing heart disease and hypertension. “It was really eye-opening because of the way it made me realise that if I don’t change my lifestyle now, I might be putting myself in a dangerous position that I won’t be able to get out of,” Yanfang says. “So I’ve been trying to be more active, eat healthier and live a more balanced lifestyle since I did the Premium DNA Test.”
Meanwhile, Daniel (name also changed for privacy reasons) also did the Premium DNA Test after his mother bought the test kits for his whole family. Prior to the test, the 28-year-old would be really fatigued in the middle of the day—and never knew why. “It turns out that I have a high carbohydrate sensitivity, and I have higher needs for certain nutrients such as Vitamin C,” he says. “My Premium DNA Test report also told me I actually need less than seven hours of sleep, which was surprising because I thought the more sleep, the better. After implementing these changes into my diet and sleep schedule, I gradually started noticing major changes in my energy. I started feeling rested in the morning, and not feeling drowsy after lunch.”
A seamless, simple process
The tests and reports provided by CircleDNA are communicated to customers like Yanfang and Daniel through its easy-to-use app. Setting up an account, registering your DNA test kit and getting it couriered to CircleDNA’s ISO 15189-accredited laboratories are all effortless procedures. The only part of the entire process that takes a while is waiting 18 business days for the results. But the app provides health guides and articles to peruse while you wait, with plenty more to come after your test kit has been processed and the results delivered.
And because of how invaluable her Premium DNA Test results were, Yanfang later purchased the same test kits for her husband and children. “Your health is one of the rare things in life that you can never get back if you don’t preserve it,” she says. “So in this day and age, knowing your risks and acting early are some of the most important things you can do.” Daniel is equally as effusive in recommending CircleDNA’s tests and their “life-changing effects”. “The DNA tests helped me to understand the root causes of some issues I was experiencing. It also gave me recommendations on next steps I could take,” he says. “Normally I’d be the last guy to get into these health gadgets or trends, but this one is really worth it.”
Both Dr Tzang and Neoh are also excited about what the future holds for CircleDNA, DNA testing and the realm of genetics. Dr Tzang foresees that DNA testing will gradually become more integrated into mainstream healthcare while becoming even more personalised, thus allowing for treatments to become very targeted. Neoh, meanwhile, reveals that plans are underway to offer health supplements based on a customer’s DNA test results as well as memberships. He also says that CircleDNA is in the exploratory phases of utilising artificial intelligence and machine learning for its product offerings. “Our ultimate goal is to continue to innovate and deliver the most comprehensive and accurate DNA testing and analysis services to our customers,” Neoh says, “empowering them to take charge of their health and wellness like never before.”
A virtuous circle
Maybe those one-pill-cure-alls we see in science-fiction movies aren’t yet reality, but one thing is for sure—the future of healthcare is here and it’s already made a difference in more than 200,000 people’s lives across Asia. “I’m incredibly proud of the work that we have done at Prenetics and CircleDNA,” Yeung says emphatically. “At Prenetics, we were able to make DNA testing accessible to people in Asia for the first time, and at CircleDNA, we are expanding that accessibility to people around the world. I am excited about the potential for us to continue to make a difference in the future.
“The name ‘CircleDNA’ was inspired by the idea of a virtuous circle of health,” he adds, emphasising the mission that he and his colleagues like Dr Tzang and Neoh are so passionate about. “We believe that taking control of your health can have a positive impact on every aspect of your life and that’s what we aim to help people do. The circle represents the continuous cycle of self-improvement and the idea that small changes can lead to big results.”
What is Whole Exome Sequencing technology?
In short, WES is a highly accurate and reliable method that CircleDNA uses to analyse a person’s DNA. “WES involves sequencing the protein-coding regions of a person’s DNA, which is called the exome,” explains Dr Lawrence Tzang, chief scientific officer of CircleDNA. “This includes analysing more than 20,000 genes, which can help identify genetic variants that may be associated with an increased risk of certain health conditions. By analysing a person’s exome, we’re able to provide a comprehensive view of a person’s health risks and predispositions as well as their inherited traits and ancestry. This allows for precise identification of genetic variations that can inform personalised healthcare decisions.”
Photos: Li , Imagerom
Art Direction: Penn Ey, Chee
Hair and make-up: Ellyn Yeo
Photography assisted by Chong Hon Fei and Ow Jun Yuan