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'Wheel of Conditions'

Scientists at 23andMe developed a way to help researchers and interested individuals find those less-than-obvious links between health conditions.

They created a "Wheel of Conditions" using data about self-reported health conditions from more than 38,000 members of CureTogether — a resource where people can share information about disease and treatments — which the company acquired in July.

A 23andMe blog post at the Spittoon says that the Wheel of Conditions graph shows connections that are stronger than would be expected by chance based on how common the conditions in question are. Red lines connect selected conditions to the other conditions that a person is most likely to have if they report having the first. Green lines highlight other conditions with which the selected condition is most likely to co-occur.

This kind of information "can give insights into the underlying biology of the conditions," according to Emily Chang, a scientist on 23andMe's Science Content and Curation team and one of the graph's creators. "Perhaps there are genetic factors or environmental factors that predispose a person to both conditions," she says.

The post also notes that while some connections in the wheel are well known, others are perhaps a little less straightforward at first glance — such as the link between anemia and infertility.

But dig a little deeper and maybe that's not so surprising, says Daniel Reda, CureTogether's co-founder and a senior product manager at 23andMe. He also co-developed the graph.

"The body would want to avoid the huge energy investment of pregnancy if the blood has potentially insufficient oxygen carrying capacity," he says. "In ancestral times, vitamin deficiency from food scarcity would have caused anemia, so it would make sense for the body to be able to turn off its reproductive potential until conditions improved."

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