And so the mother-son duo appeared in a paper in Cell (1). The paper described details captured by Mike Snyder’s iPOP that couldn’t be seen with standard clinical diagnostics. For example, during those 14 months, Snyder began to develop the symptoms of diabetes, high blood sugar and a particular form of glycosylated hemoglobin. Snyder didn’t have any of the physical predispositions for diabetes: He wasn’t overweight, didn’t smoke and didn’t have a family history of the illness. But as his iPOP began to display the telltale signs and he received the diagnosis for the disease, Snyder immediately took action to cut off the disease’s progress. “No more junk food or desserts,” he says. “Cake, ice cream, candy all gone.” He doubled the amount of biking he does and started running again. With these changes, his iPOP later showed a drop in the diabetic biomarkers.
iPOP also demonstrated how one data set may not be sufficient for the whole picture. The genomic analyses revealed that both Snyders had a specific mutation that has been correlated with aplastic anemia, a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough new red blood cells. But neither of them has the disease, indicating that genetics alone isn’t enough to kick off this particular disease.
The iPOP experiment now has Mike Snyder interested in studying the -omics profiles of prediabetics and seeing what information can be gathered if they cross over into the realm of diabetes. His group now is working to get the requisite approvals in place to carry out iPOP analyses on 250 prediabetic patients. “One-third will convert to diabetics over the course of five years,” says Snyder. “We hope to learn what triggers this conversion and what the final disease profile looks like. We also want to learn why some people respond to some drugs and others do not.” He speculates that diabetes could be many diseases rolled into one; through iPOP, he hopes his team will be able to discern exactly how many metabolic pathways go awry and how people might be best treated.
Snyder aims to make iPOP a more readily accessible tool for health-care providers. He envisions a future when everyone can get an iPOP done for $100 or so, “the same cost as the blood test you do now,” he says. The costs associated with an iPOP should come down over time, because researchers should become more adept at knowing which molecules should be tracked and which ones are not worth following, says Snyder. By picking out the most informative biomarkers, an iPOP should become more streamlined and cost effective.
|Michael Snyder with his
youngest child, Eve.
Catching the science bug
Phyllis Snyder was the first person to get her son interested science. She was a stay-at-home mother of six children and went through college part time when Snyder was young and joined the work force to help support the family. She began to work as a substitute elementary school teacher when Snyder was in high school and became a full-time third-grade teacher when Snyder entered college. He credits her for bestowing an inquisitive mind in him and his siblings as well as a sunny outlook on life. “She is a positive person by nature,” says Snyder, “and I like to think I am.”
Snyder’s father passed away in 2000. An accountant, Kermit Snyder was “extremely good with numbers and a great dad,” says Snyder, adding that he and his siblings “got some of our quantitative aspects from him.” Two of Mike Snyder’s siblings also have Ph.D.s., one in organic chemistry and the other in psychology. As Phyllis Snyder quips, “Three doctors, but none of them can cure you of anything!”
Snyder is the fifth of three boys and three girls and reckons family dynamics taught him a thing or two about collaboration and competition. “In a large family, you learn how to get along with others as well as stand up for yourself,” he says. “I remember at the dinner table that if you hesitated you would not get dessert because it would all be eaten.”
His mother describes Snyder as “energetic and a workaholic, like his father” as well as “very considerate and compassionate for others.” When Snyder was in elementary school, Phyllis Snyder says, the family called him “the absentminded professor.” “We would all go crazy looking for his shoes before he went to school, because he couldn’t remember where he had left them,” she recalls, laughing.