Spotlight On: Viome Research and Clinical Studies Team
A celebration of scientific innovation happens every day at the Viome Lab
The Viome Lab in Bothell, Washington, is home to an amazing collection of scientists, lab technicians, clinical study and research scientists, and so many more humans who bring their brainpower to the celebration of scientific innovation. It’s the hub where your personal samples travel from all over the world for analysis, then translation into your personalized test results and precision food & supplement recommendations. But–simultaneously, deep research is conducted to further our understanding of health and how we can stay healthier, longer.
With the help of teammates like the special person we are focusing on for this story, we are getting closer and closer.
Spotlight on: Mory Mehrtash, Viome Clinical Studies Coordinator
Mory Mehrtash works in the clinical studies department at the Viome Lab and enjoys that her work will help benefit millions of people in the near future. We talked to her about what got her started in science and how she made her way to Viome.
Tell us a little bit about your history. How did you get your start in science?
I was born in Tehran, Iran, and moved to Canada with my family when I was 12. I attended the University of British Columbia for my Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition, and Health, and a Master of Science in Experimental Medicine. I worked at different research labs during my undergrad, and the projects that I worked on in those labs led me to pursue a Master’s degree in Science. For my Master's degree, I had a clinical research project that I worked on. And I found out that I really liked research because you might end up discovering something amazing that could potentially help millions of people.
What was your thesis on?
It was a retrospective observational study on Obstructive Sleep Apnea. I looked at the rate and predictors of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) adherence in Canadian patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). This study was the largest and the first of its kind in Canada. I was able to identify the severity of OSA as the only predictor of CPAP adherence and that < 50% of the patients adhere to CPAP, which is unfortunate because having sleep apnea does affect your brain and other organs, and not a lot of people know that and don’t take it seriously. Imagine if you stop breathing for a few seconds a few times a night every night. I understand that CPAP is a loud machine and it hovers over your nose and/or mouth, and most people don’t like that, but if it makes them and their partner sleep better, they should use it. Not everybody likes that.
Wow, that’s surprising.
Yes, some people, when they have sleep apnea, don't breathe for three to eight seconds at a time, and that affects their brain and how they function the next day. The professor that I worked with wanted to improve the adherence to the CPAP because sleep apnea is such a serious condition.
What initially led you into STEM studies in your college career?
Initially, I wanted to go to medical school, but then, as I was in school and as I was learning more and more about research and the difference between research and med school, I just thought–with research, if you can help a whole lot of people at once, why would you want to help people individually and give them treatments and meds that may not work and only help pharmaceutical companies get richer? If you are a physician, you are only able to help a limited number of people a day–your own patients.
If you are in research and if you are able to come up with some sort of a prevention plan or some sort of medication that can help millions of people, then why not do that? So that's why I chose this path.
What brought you down here to the greater Seattle area?
In 2019, my husband and I moved down to the U.S., and I started working at the University of Washington as a clinical research coordinator. I had been there for a couple of years when I got approached by Viome to join the clinical research team as a research coordinator.
Since then, I've worked on different projects, and I've had so many different responsibilities. I initiated and managed clinical trials according to the protocols that we write here and according to the study timelines and the resources available, and I monitored the progress and operations of the studies.
There is so much to do with managing studies. I create different study documents, I identify and resolve bottlenecks of the studies that I’m running, negotiate contracts with clinical study sites, and I’m the point of contact for the different clinical sites and stakeholders. I'm responsible for the timely execution and operation of the studies that I’m responsible for and track and forecast the budgets, metrics, timelines, maintain documentation, etc.
Is that all, then? (laughs)
It really is teamwork, though, and I can’t do it all by myself. It takes a whole village to be able to run these studies, and everyone at Viome is very nice, and they all try to help out.
Tell us about some of the differences in research at Viome versus at other labs.
When I was at UW, I worked with many pharmaceutical companies that were trying to come up with different drugs and get them FDA-approved. I used to work with people with FSHD, ALS, and pulmonary fibrosis. And all these pharmaceutical companies would just try to come up with different drugs to treat people who have already been diagnosed with these diseases; they weren't trying to prevent these diseases from happening in the first place. So that's one of the things that led me to Viome because all of these drugs have different side effects and could be damaging your other organs.
So one of the things that I really like about Viome is the fact that we are working to understand how diet and lifestyle can improve healthspan and lifespan. And that's why I was interested in working at Viome, and I always look at the big picture when we are running these clinical studies. There are many diseases out there we don't even know about yet. And so, instead of treating them, I really like the idea of understanding how our diet can help prevent them.
What are you working towards at Viome that you’re looking forward to accomplishing this year?
Right now, we have very interesting studies on obesity, diabetes, mental health, and GI diseases. So I really want those studies to finish successfully. We're trying to recruit around 500 people for all those four or five projects. I really want to finish those studies I’m running and see the results. We've been pushing really hard to finish these studies successfully and to get all the participants we need and to get the results all year.
That's a lot of people. Is recruitment one of your big hurdles?
It is. Another hurdle is study compliance. We want to make sure that the people we recruit are complying to the instructions that we are giving them for the study. So we just have to follow up with them a few times a week to make sure that they are completing the surveys, they're taking their supplements, they're following their nutritional recommendations. So that does take a lot of time and effort. It really is a team effort.
We take it day by day, and hopefully, we can get to a point where we get really successful results to get to our ultimate goal of preventing some of these diseases from happening. That’s what I look forward to.
What advice do you have for someone just starting in a new role or wanting to explore new opportunities at work?
Take your time learning about your new role and your responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get to know the people who work with you, and if you feel like you would like to explore new avenues or opportunities at work, discuss it with your manager and get their insight and take their advice into consideration. I believe wanting to explore new opportunities at work really helps an individual to gain more experience and helps them grow professionally.
How important or helpful do you think it is to have a beginner’s mindset in research–meaning you’re not showing up as an expert on the subject–to allow for quick growth?
I think it’s important to have a background on the subject, but of course, you won’t know everything and be an expert on the subject when you first start. You can learn as you go and take it day by day and do the best that you can every day and, over time, you become an expert on the subject.
What have you learned about yourself and your own personal health while working at Viome that surprised you?
Before I started working at Viome, I didn’t really think about gut health, but now, I’m much more careful about what I eat, and I try to follow my recommendations.
What is your favorite superfood?
I love yogurt. I just buy plain yogurt and add different things to it and make it interesting for myself. Sometimes I like it sweet, so I add honey, sometimes I like it salty, so I add some salt, and sometimes I just like it plain. I also love “doogh,” which is an Iranian fermented drink. It’s basically just yogurt, mint, water, and salt. Highly recommended if you haven’t tried it yet!
Is there any particular health score that you are working to improve?
I currently don’t have a particular health score that I’m working to improve. I just try to eat healthy and have a balanced diet. I also avoid processed foods and minimize carb consumption. I also try to be active on an everyday basis.
Do you have any advice for others, especially women and girls, who are interested in looking into studying for a career in STEM fields?
Just keep pushing and take it day by day, and no matter what life throws at you, you have to keep pushing through it. It's a tough world out there, but if you have faith in yourself and if you believe in science, then you can achieve anything.
Thank you, Mory!