In various cultures around the world, people tell stories about a hero being swallowed by a beast and coming out the other side more powerful. For instance, both Hiawatha and Pinocchio disappeared into the bellies of whales. In the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, Jonah is the individual that emerges from the belly of a beast stronger than ever.
The story of Jonah and the whale may be thousands of years old, but it is still relevant today, said Leo Grady, the CEO of a gut microbiome testing startup that emerged from stealth on Wednesday. His company — named Jona — uses AI to produce reports that help people understand the relationship between their gut microbiome and overall health.
“Jonah goes into the belly of the whale and emerges enlightened. I’m not religious, but I think that story is really appropriate for us on multiple levels,” Grady explained. “Obviously there’s the literal level of going in the belly and finding wisdom and enlightenment, but there’s also usually a turning point in the story where the person faces the things that they’re struggling with and really overcomes them.”
Grady, the former CEO of Paige.AI, has had a decades-long career in the healthcare industry. During this time, he spent a lot of time around medical research and learned that there is a long list of disorders and conditions that have been linked to the human gut microbiome, spanning from depression to autoimmune conditions to diabetes to Parkinson’s.
The traditional healthcare system usually doesn’t take a person’s gut microbiome into account when making diagnoses and creating treatment plans, but it should, Grady argued. The imbalance of the gut microbiota has been proven to affect digestion, immune function and mental health. Through its platform, Jona uses AI to help people better understand how this community of microorganisms residing in their gut impacts their overall health.
The New York City-based startup’s flagship product is an at-home gut microbiome profiling kit that analyzes people’s stool samples using AI. The platform scours thousands of studies on PubMed and produces a custom report letting users know how this research applies to the makeup of their personal microbiome.
The report, which becomes available two to three weeks after stool samples are shipped, educates users about associations to conditions, symptoms and food sensitivities. For example, a user may get a report back saying they have a slight association with Crohn’s disease and have a hard time digesting lactose and shellfish, or their report could say their microbiome looks similar to those of people with chronic fatigue syndrome and lupus. The report also offers recommendations concerning diet and lifestyle modifications based on users’ personal health goals.
By gaining an understanding of their gut microbiome, people become better equipped to reach accurate diagnoses, relieve symptoms and find effective therapies, Grady pointed out.
Jona’s kit costs $385. Users can purchase it from the company’s website, and Jona also has a few partnerships with concierge medicine sites that sell the kit to their customers.
“There are companies that do microbiome testing. I’ve taken them all — they all basically tell me ‘Leo, your guts are terrible. You should take our probiotic,’” he explained. “That’s not what we do. We don’t sell probiotics. Our goal is really to empower people to have the knowledge to understand what’s going on in their body and how they can take control of it.”
Photo: spawns, Getty Images