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According to NIH research, between 60 and 70 million Americans are affected by GI disorders. In addition, the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association reports that as many as 50 million Americans are living with an autoimmune disease at a cost of $86 billion each year.
Many of these individuals struggle to find a diagnosis, relieve symptoms, and find effective therapies, explained Leo Grady, PhD, CEO and founder of Jona, a technology company on a mission to reveal the relationship between the microbiome and health, which launched on Wednesday with $5 million in funding.
"Beyond autoimmune conditions, the microbiome has been demonstrated to broadly underpin human health from digestive disorders and autoimmune disease to obesity, cancer, drug efficacy, liver disease, human longevity, Parkinson’s Disease and even mental health," he told VatorNews.
"However, the microbiome is extremely complex, both the microbiome itself and the scientific literature on the microbiome which is growing at over 2,000 papers/month in PubMed, which is why AI is the right technology to understand this complexity and take effective action."
To solve for this, Jona has built a proprietary Large Language Model (a form of AI) that can read a person’s microbiome levels and summarize the scientific literature linking their microbiome to signatures found to be associated with different diseases, conditions, symptoms and allergies.
The company's first product, which is now available to both consumers and providers, is an at-home microbiome profiling kit that sequences the microbes in an individual’s gut microbiome. Jona uses this LLM to generate a personalized interactive report with associations to conditions, symptoms, food sensitivities and produces actionable insights on food, diet and lifestyle modifications based on their health goals.
"Jona provides a measure of the strength of evidence for each association, as well as links to all the supporting studies. In addition, Jona’s AI system summarizes how to take action from these results by identifying those actions studied in the literature that impact your specific microbiome in ways that can help you improve your health," Grady said.
During the company's beta period, it worked with several concierge practices as well as individual consumers, totaling a couple of hundred tests. In that time, it saw three types of people use the platform, the first being people who have persistent symptoms and have maybe seen a doctor or taken some tests, but are struggling to figure out what’s going on. These users come to Jona to look at their microbiome and see if they might be able to gain an understanding of the root causes of their issues and what actions they could take that might help.
The second set of users were people who have a diagnosis, such as Crohn’s Disease, Lupus, or IBS, and yet struggle to understand what foods or lifestyle activities are aggravating their symptoms. These individuals come to Jona to look in their microbiome and see if there may be information there which can help them take concrete actions to reduce symptoms
Finally, there are people who are interested in preventative health and health optimization, such as biohackers and athletes, who want to understand the state of their microbiome, what it can tell them about their health and how to use this information to further optimize.
One user is Grady's own son, who has had persistent gut health issues since he was a baby and whose mother has Crohn’s Disease.
"Although he’s seen different doctors and taken tests, most of his learning about what to eat and what to avoid was trial and error," Grady said.
"His Jona results connected his symptoms to elements of his microbiome, which gave him a guideline of how to adapt his eating/lifestyle habits in a way that may be able to change his microbiome for the better. The results both confirmed what he already knew, showed him new information and provided a clear roadmap of action he could take."
Before starting Jona, Grady was CEO of Paige, an computational pathology company that uses machine learning and software to help pathologists diagnose cancer, giving him 20 years of experience leading development and commercialization of advanced machine learning, AI, computer vision, diagnostic and digital health technologies, which he now brought to his new company.
"My previous work with AI has led to a deep understanding of how it can be implemented within the healthcare world and also the increasing interest among patients and primary care doctors of leveraging the latest technology in their care. Part of how I approach Jona is to bring AI technology closer to the patient and primary care," he said.
The new funding, which was led by Breyer Capital and Meridian Street Capital, will be used to continue to develop the company's product, with the ultimate mission being to use AI to reveal the relationship between the microbiome and health to guide individuals, providers and innovators toward discovery and action.
"We believe that fully realizing the microbiome in medicine will create whole new diagnostics, change patient pathways, develop new therapeutic classes, change nutrition, extend human longevity and that Jona is building the foundational technology platform to empower that future," said Grady.
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