Select Page

Insights

“The important thing is to contextualise your genetics with other biomedical data to know how you are, how you are and how you take care of yourself and take concrete, personalised and actionable measures”

28 Feb 2024   ·   

“What we provide is the layer of intelligence that allows us to contextualise that data, compute it and make recommendations that can change people’s lives and increase the performance of athletes”.

“What Barça is doing, not only with us but also with other companies like Onalabs, is bringing companies from the medical sector to sport, and this is game-changer”.

The culmination of the Sports Tomorrow Congress had a final surprise with a team photo of Made of Genes and the FC Barcelona board. The company founded a decade ago by Óscar Flores and Miquel Bru completes a cycle with its incorporation into the Barça Innovation Hub’s start-up investment programme. In the framework of the Mobile World Congress, they took the opportunity to explain in this interview the journey that led two master’s degree students to found a key company in the development of personalised medicine.

 

Let’s start at the beginning. The Made of Genes project started almost 10 years ago, when you coincided in an MBA. How did the idea come up?

Óscar Flores (Ó.F.): I am a computer engineer with a PhD in Biomedicine and when we met in an MBA at ESADE I was at a professional moment when I had the feeling that I was not contributing anything to the real world.

Miquel Bru (M.B.): I am a nurse and sports physiotherapist, I worked in sports clubs and in primary care before moving into technology consultancy. Two people from different worlds but with the same concern, how we could apply this technological wave to the real world to have an impact on people’s health, came together in the master’s degree.

 

Before explaining the potential of your model, it is interesting to clarify technical concepts such as sequencing, epigenetics or personalised medicine.

Ó.F.: We are not exactly a company focused on a test such as genetics –genetics is a branch of biology that studies how hereditary traits are transmitted from generation to generation or epigenetics (epigenetics or epigenomics is the study of the mechanisms that regulate the expression of genes without a modification in the sequence of the DNA that makes them up)–. It is true that we started by trying to allow anyone to access their genome, but we quickly realised that what we called personalised medicine was not only genetics, but that it was only one piece that had to be contextualised within a global vision of the person.

 

Of course, you mean that our genes can wake up with what happens to us but also with what happens to our body, how we take care of it, hence Made of Genes combines sequencing with blood tests to be able to personalise a lifestyle or a treatment.

M.B.: Exactly, in reality personalised medicine has been around for many years. It is medicine that takes the person as a whole into account. The problem is that over the years it has become more complicated, we have more and more knowledge of biology, its interaction with the environment, workloads, the food I eat, etc., so that today we have much more data and therefore we need to process much more information. However, health professionals have the same amount of time, this has not changed, so now we need advanced technologies to be able to process it and extract the information that will allow us to interact with people in a way that is not only personalised but also accurate.

 

Let’s talk about the sequencing technique, which is one of the experiments featured in Made of Genes. Is the sample for a test to obtain the genome taken in saliva or in blood?

M.B.: We can do it both ways, but we like to do it in blood because that way we take more data, we analyse blood markers such as glucose, cholesterol, vitamins, etc. Our intention is to go beyond the pack that you can receive at home to sequence the DNA and show certain predispositions because there are many clubs that already have this data, what we provide is the layer of intelligence that allows us to contextualise this data globally, computerising it and making specific, personalised and actionable recommendations that can change the lives of people and athletes.

Ó.F.: It’s actually simple but powerful, imagine you have a genetic predisposition to have low vitamin D, that’s not enough, we also need to know how that vitamin really is and act accordingly. If you have low blood levels of vitamin D, then hey, take these foods that increase the vitamin, get more sun exposure and if it is an acute case supported by a genetic predisposition, then we should consider vitamin D supplementation.

M.B: We need to know how you are, which you can find out from genetics, but also how you are, which we can find out from a blood test, and how you are looking after yourself, which we can find out from a health form or a wearable that collects data on the external load on the athlete.

 

You have been called “the body’s instruction manual”, “encyclopaedia”, “the Netflix of the genome”… Which definition do you find more comfortable?

Ó.F.: Some of those are old, from when we started focusing on genetics, but right now what we do is not so much compiling the data but applying intelligence to that data, the recommendations that our team of geneticists, pharmacists, biologists, health professionals, etc. provide.

 

Why is safety so important when we talk about each person’s genome?

M.B.: It is important because it is highly sensitive data and has to be treated as such. However, I like to remember that when I started working as a nurse, the first occupational medical check-ups started to take place and there was a lot of concern about data privacy. What if they found out that I had an illness or that I had been drinking? And in the end we realised that nothing would happen, that the data was protected. Well, this is the same thing, if there is good regulation of the use of data, which there is, and we have good certified technology, which we do, there should be no unauthorised use of the data.

 

Is volume the key to technology development and new knowledge?

Ó.F.: Yes, the more volume of data, the more knowledge we can validate. But it is true that it is difficult in the sports world because clubs are reluctant to share their data.

 

What competitive advantage could an athlete gain from your technology?

Ó.F.: So far at Made of Genes we talk about health optimisation, but of course, an athlete stresses his or her biology to achieve performance. What we do at Made of Genes PERFORMANCE is to use the same techniques to go one step further and look for maximum performance to obtain precise information on how much rest or recovery a specific athlete needs.

M.B.: I’ll use my own case as an example. I used to run marathons and I always injured my hamstrings weeks before the competition, after continuous training sessions with a high load. When I did all our own tests I discovered two very important things that would have changed my preparation. One is that I am a slow muscle recovery person, and I have to be very careful with my loads and rests. Another is that I have a tendency to suffer in the tendon tissue. This does not mean that my body is better or worse, or that I can perform more or less, but that I have to adapt my training. “One size fits all” does not work in health or sport.

 

That is the key to the famous personalisation of training.

Ó.F.: Yes, and also take into account that a top level player is not the same as the rest or a child player. The loads, biology, etc. are different, so they must be treated differently in order to get the most out of their individual potential.

 

What will the agreement with Barça bring you as a company?

Ó.F.: A research framework, above all. Barça’s commitment to the Barça Innovation Hub is unusual. Research is carried out in areas such as oncology, but the potential to apply this to sport is very great and Barça shows that it is committed to this with this agreement.

M.B.: What we are seeing at events such as the Sports Tomorrow Congress is the potential to bring these techniques explored in personalised medicine to the world of sport.

Ó.F.: What Barça is doing, not only with us but also with other companies such as Onalabs, is transferring companies from the medical sector to sport, and this is a game-changer.

 

Will genetic analyses be done in the future to decide whether an athlete deserves an investment based on his or her propensity to injury

Ó.F.: There is not enough research for us to be able to say these things. Let’s imagine a player like Messi, how many doubts there were about signing him with all the parameters that were available, he would surely have been discarded if we focus only on this.

 

Of course, the talent gene has not been identified.

M.B.: It is a global vision, the talent, your biology, your habits, etc. It is not about discovering the talent gene, it is about knowledge about the athlete and using it in a concrete, personalised and actionable way to help that unique talent to flourish.

 

What do you see as the main challenge in your field for the coming years?

Ó.F.: Perhaps how to apply artificial intelligence. We like to talk a lot about multimodal health, which is data-driven health. So we need to focus on how we can manage and process data and then create algorithms that give us intelligence.

M.B.: It is now very easy and cheap to generate a lot of data. The problem is how do we industrialise the process so that we can have an elite mini-researcher on our phone interpreting all the data and providing intelligence? Contextualise data from wearables, genetics, routine blood tests, epigenetics, lifestyle habits, etc. In short, always take into account how you are, how you are and how you take care of yourself in order to have a global vision and give concrete and actionable answers.

Education

Building the future of the sports industry

Insights