Predict 2’s Sponsor and Collaborators: ZOE, Tim Spector, and 25 Years of Science

This blog post is the seventh in a series on my participation in the PREDICT 2 study. Click the links below to read earlier parts of the series:

 

PREDICT 2 includes scientific collaborators from Stanford University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard, Lund (Sweden), Oxford (UK), Tufts University, King’s College London, and ZOE. That last collaborator isn’t a person, it’s a new company founded by a scientist and two entrepreneurs. The three founders are together on the ultimate quest to investigate people, food, and nature versus nurture. 

ZOE is a new nutrition science company based in both Boston and London. The ZOE team has a “food is medicine” philosophy, reminiscent of the age-old Hippocrates quote:

“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”

Meet the ZOE founders:

Tim Spector, PhD, Scientific Founder

Image credit: JoinZoe.com

Claims to fame: 

  • Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London
  • Director of the TwinsUK study at King’s College London

Achievements: 

  • Elected to Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences
  • Previously the president of the International Society of Twin Studies
  • Directs the European Twin Registry Consortium (Discotwin)

Dr. Spector established the UK Twins Registry over two decades ago, in the early stages of his career. In 2019, the UK Twins Registry contains more than 13,000 twins between the ages of 16 and 98. It is the largest adult registry of twins in the UK, and its founding marks the beginning of what would be a long and successful career for Dr. Spector, closely investigating the relationship between genetic and environmental factors in the context of disease. His 25-year twin study of the thousands of twins from the registry took a deep dive into how genes, diet, lifestyle, and the microbiome – the same factors considered in the PREDICT studies – affect food metabolism.

Biographical information on Dr. Spector describes his collaboration with more than 120 research centers worldwide. He is in the top one percent of most-cited scientists, and he has published more than 800 research articles. He is also the author of two books:

  • “The Diet Myth,” published 2015
    • In this book, Dr. Spector discusses the role of both eating habits and the gut microbiome in affecting health outcomes and longevity. He encourages readers to eat more foods that improve gut microbiome diversity.
  • “Identically Different,” published 2013
    • In this book, Dr. Spector reviews how, along with the impact of genetics, how one’s environment and life experiences affect health outcomes.

Dr. Spector is known for criticizing low-fat and fad diets, instead recommending a high-fiber Mediterranean-style diet with lots of nuts and vegetables. Throughout his career, Dr. Spector had made incredible steps in uncovering genetic links to complex health conditions previously associated with aging and the environment. His various genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have resulted in the discovery of more than 500 novel gene loci in more than 50 disease areas.

Jonathan Wolf, Co-founder and CEO

Image credit: JoinZoe.com

Claims to fame:

  • Prior Chief Product Officer (2012-2016) for Criteo, a machine-learning company
  • Prior Senior Director at Yahoo! (2005-2008)

In 1997, Jonathan Wolf graduated from Oxford University with a degree in physics. By 2005, he would be managing corporate development in Europe as Senior Director for Yahoo!, and by 2009 he would be on his way to implementing the way machine-learning company Criteo now impacts personalized retargeting efforts across the globe. 

When Wolf started at Criteo in 2009 as Chief Buying Officer, he was in the company of just 30 enthusiastic start-up employees. When he left as Criteo’s Chief Product Officer in 2016, the company had more than two thousand employees, had gone public on NASDAQ, and had over one billion dollars in revenue. 

Criteo is provides “mass-market personalized retargeting” on the Internet. This is the kind of internet advertisement that gives you the “they’re watching me” vibe; when you leave one website that sells product X and see the same product X being advertised on a different website at a later time, companies like Criteo are responsible.

George Hadjigeorgiou, Co-founder and president

Image credit: JoinZoe.com

Claims to fame:

  • Prior CEO of HouseTrip
  • Co-founder of e-Food

George Hadjigeorgiou’s academic experience is rich with mechanical engineering. He has a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a master’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He worked in various positions at Accenture for several years after his 1998 graduation from MIT, before ultimately landing at Yahoo! in 2004. 

Hadjigeorgiou co-founded the online food delivery company e-Food in 2011, and the company was bought by Delivery Hero in 2015. Delivery Hero services are available in more than 40 countries across the globe, including in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Basically, Deliver Hero is the European version of “Door Dash” or Uber Eats.”

In 2012, Hadjigeorgiou began working for HouseTrip, which would later by acquired by TripAdvisor. He was CEO from 2014 to 2016 before joining the team at ZOE. Hadjigeorgiou is responsible for ZOE’s namesake; in Greek, “ZOE” means “life” (Hadjigeorgiou references the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in his Linked-in post about his endeavors at ZOE, which is very much appreciated).

Commentary

What does machine learning have to do with ZOE and the PREDICT studies? According to a June 2019 press release from ZOE, the company is using machine learning techniques to evaluate all of the data procured during the PREDICT studies to ultimately produce a test and app for consumers to purchase and complete to learn about how their body uniquely metabolizes food. Essentially, my voluntary participation in the PREDICT 2 study, where there is no exchange of money between myself and ZOE, would be transformed into an experience that people would pay for. So with the help from myself, the thousands of other participants of past and future PREDICT studies, and all of our combined data, ZOE could make a serious business, making customers out of people interested in their personal physiological responses to food. And while ZOE grows its business, the scientific community will benefit greatly from new insights made possible only by the analysis of great volumes of data. 

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