From leading a global Covid research team to the epicenter of preventative health – Introducing our CSO, Jeffrey Barrett

This autumn, Nightingale strengthened its scientific expertise when Jeffrey Barrett was appointed as the company’s Chief Scientific Officer. Jeffrey, who’s an internationally recognized scientific leader and senior executive, joined us after leading a globally critical Covid sequencing project at Wellcome Sanger Institute. At Nightingale, he hopes to take advances in science and technology currently locked in cutting-edge research facilities and bring them to people to change the landscape of preventative health.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your previous work before joining Nightingale?

I grew up in Boston, and after finishing my studies at MIT, I moved to the UK to do my Ph.D. in statistical genetics at the University of Oxford. I researched how the differences in our genes affect our risk of diseases, including schizophrenia, autoimmune diseases, and the risk of infections. There, I became increasingly interested in translating all these advances in understanding the biology of health and disease to improve people’s lives.  

This led me to work as Director at Open Targets, a public-private partnership with several big pharmaceutical companies that seeks to find targets for new and better drugs. Additionally, I’ve held Chief Scientific Officer and Board Member positions at Genomics plc in the United Kingdom. Before joining Nightingale, I led a Covid sequencing project in response to the pandemic at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. 

 

How did you hear about Nightingale, and what made you excited to join the company?

So, what Nightingale does in the field of metabolomics is pretty close to my background in studying genetics and genomics. Technology similar to Nightingale’s has previously only been used in massive research facilities, so I was immediately interested when I learned through a colleague that Nightingale was commercializing it. 

When Nightingale’s Scientific Director Peter reached out to me, I knew that it was exactly what I wanted. Soon after, I had a conversation with Nightingale’s CEO Teemu one afternoon, during which we excitedly bounced ideas and visions about the future of preventative healthcare. That conversation sealed the deal for me.

 

What kind of expertise do you bring to the table at Nightingale?

I oversee the data science and epidemiology activities, which power our health insights and predictions. I think my background across science, leadership and executive positions is also valuable in helping Nightingale reach its ambitious global goal: we are on a mission to take the technological advances currently locked in cutting-edge research facilities and bring them to people.

 

Can you tell us about your colleagues and the team it takes to smoothly run such a unique company?

We are a very varied bunch! What I love about Nightingale is that we are all fully committed to hard science — but in a way that people can understand it. It takes our brilliant designers and creative people to turn scientific jargon into understandable communication and design language. In addition to science, software engineering, and design, we must also be hungry to find suitable business models to enable growth and success which requires another skillset. Based on our recent successful product developments and our technology being in production use by healthcare providers in Finland and Japan, I think we have excellent talent to achieve these goals.

 

How do you think health technology will evolve in the coming years?

We need to find a way to translate data from various sources, like wearables, into actual improvements in health. Many users of such devices get excited for a couple of weeks, after which those devices become mostly jewelry. I think a big part of this is because our body is like a black box – it’s often hard to see how our decisions affect us. You may see a number on a screen, but you don’t know what causes it. At Nightingale, we open a window into this black box and look deeper into these causes. Related to wearable tech, I think a big trend will be the integration of such technologies. Right now, there are too many disconnected apps and devices instead of a single clear view of one’s health. Lastly, bridging wellness and medical communities will be an important step in approaching holistic healthcare. These groups’ goals are fundamentally the same – making our minds and bodies better – but the communities are often very siloed which slows progress towards better health.

 

Nightingale is bringing its home kit to consumers in Q1/2022. Simultaneously, the app will receive two new health areas. What are these areas, and what kind of impact can they have on our wellbeing?

The release of the home kit will mark a new chapter in Nightingale’s story. Getting our solution to people’s homes makes it easy to take the sample and bring this life-changing technology to all. We’re now perfecting the home kit to get the design, science, and usability right where we want it.

Currently, the app scores two health areas, heart health and diabetes resistance. Starting in Q1/2022, the app will also score the user’s mind health and immunity. This update is extremely timely, considering how big a toll Covid has had on our mental wellbeing and immune systems. 

Concerning mind health, there’s still a lot of stigma around it. Yet, our bodies are often simply in biological states that make it very hard for us to be and behave the way we would like to. Fortunately, we can pick up clues to these states from blood. We believe that gaining insights on the underlying causes will normalize mind health and help people to take the reins of their wellbeing. 

With the immunity indicator, the test can determine if a participant’s immune system is at peak level to prevent future infections from becoming serious. 

We are very excited about these two new areas because they give our customers insights that aren’t available anywhere else. Yet, this is just the beginning. In the future, we want to capture many more aspects of our users’ health.

 

Finally, could you tell us what you’d like to achieve at Nightingale the most?

When we build products that people are excited to use, we also create opportunities to see what changes people are willing to make to better their lives. With our technology, I hope we will eventually have hundreds of thousands or millions of stories on how these changes in diet, exercise, and habits impact people. This kind of massive and detailed sample will offer us immeasurable guidance needed to achieve lifelong health.