Maritza Diaz, CEO and Co-founder, ITJuana

Celebrating Maritza Diaz, National Hispanic Heritage Month 2021


The household culture of encouraging education was the catalyst for Maritza Diaz’s success in STEM. She grew up in Ecuador with three siblings, with a father who encouraged education. “It will drive your future,” he’d say. But Maritza – without a role model in STEM, nor even a computer — hadn’t anticipated becoming a software engineer, never mind an influential tech executive who is now transforming the international digital workforce.

Maritza Diaz, CEO and Co-founder, ITJuana

Today, Maritza is the CEO and co-founder of ITJuana, a San Diego-based company creating an innovation economy in Tijuana, Mexico by partnering with California businesses to develop world-class software engineering centers in Tijuana. Through cross-border collaboration, ITJuana is helping Luna and other San Diego companies expand their software teams and create centers of excellence.

With more than 25 years of experience in IT and software engineering, and with deep knowledge of tech innovation, Maritza is a member of the Forbes Technology Council, sits on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco representing San Diego, and was named San Diego’s Business Journal’s 2021 CEO of the Year Rising Star.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we caught up with Maritza for her to share more about her life story, career journey, and how she became a world-class tech leader.

Hi Maritza. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Can you share a little about your life growing up as a young Maritza?

When I think about my life growing up, I can’t help but think of family and true happiness. I grew up in Ecuador; the third child of a very humble family. We didn’t really have a lot of material possessions but certainly, all of that was exponentially compensated for by the love and family support we had at home. My parents had to work very hard to ensure all their four kids had access to education. My dad would always tell me to go get an education because that will be the most precious possession I could ever have for my future — something he didn’t have access to when he grew up. I was really good at math and problem solving in general, growing up. So, I made the decision to pursue a computer science degree at the last minute during college course registration. Sometimes what you don’t plan are the things that work out for the best.

All my siblings and I eventually became engineers and hopefully made my parents very proud.

My parents had to work very hard to ensure all their four kids had access to education. My dad would always tell me to go get an education because that will be the most precious possession I could ever have for my future — something he didn’t have access to when he grew up.”

That’s impressive. I’m sure you made your parents proud. Even more so, that you’ve created what is considered to be one of the finest software organizations in the industry. Let’s talk about the inception of ITJuana. What compelled you to create such an innovative company?

ITJuana is all about generating new jobs for people who are hungry for new opportunities and who are very capable of delivering high value. Digital talent is in extremely high demand across the globe. All companies are now seeing digitalization as a core part of their business rather than a nice-to-have. This new reality has put a lot of pressure on digital talent attraction. ITJuana is solving the digital talent access problem for companies in the US by opening a new source of high-quality talent available in Latin America in a complementary time zone and at a fraction of the cost.

Luna is thrilled to be partnering with you for many reasons, especially your ability to find highly experienced team members who will help Luna continue to scale and expand its platform. What excites you most about working with Luna?

Your mission and products. The fact that Luna is touching people’s lives in a positive way is very attractive to me. Because of many years spent in the Biotech and Medical Device industries, I realize that I want to work on products with a mission, products that are impacting people’s lives, products that will transcend and become a legacy that we can be proud of.

Besides the product and the mission, I feel very connected with your values and priorities. The sense of building communities and bringing a diverse team together are some examples of the values that we share and that I am personally very passionate about. I truly believe we are uniquely positioned to achieve great results together.

In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, what aspects of your heritage do you think have impacted the culture of your company?

I am a firm believer that one needs to know where they come from in order to understand what they want to become. Being a Latina in the US has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. I’ve seen firsthand the lack of representation of Latinas not only in the C-level suite but also in tech. Not having a role model in tech when I was growing up certainly limited my way of thinking and it took me many years to finally realize that I can do whatever I put my heart and mind to. I learned this on my own, but I wish it wouldn’t have taken me this long to get to where I am.

One of my goals with ITJuana is to empower the Latinx community to dream big, to believe they can achieve impossible goals. Through ITJuana, I am hoping to accelerate this process of achievement by providing opportunities for young talent, including students and graduates, to start a meaningful career very early and to have access to mentors and role models that they can lean on to achieve their career aspirations and work on meaningful products.

To all Latinxs out there — be smart, be thoughtful, be purposeful and join a career in tech today so that you can have an awesome future tomorrow.”

What one piece of advice would you give to others passionate about a career in a STEM field?

STEM, and particularly tech, is the future. COVID accelerated the need for companies to become digital and that generated tremendous opportunities and what I call, “jobs of the future.” Jobs that will solve very difficult problems through software, jobs that will be impacting people’s lives, and jobs that will generate economic growth in our region.

To all Latinxs out there — be smart, be thoughtful, be purposeful and join a career in tech today so that you can have an awesome future tomorrow.

Such great advice from such a prominent, influential leader. Lastly, what do you want your legacy to be?

I want to be remembered as someone who touched many people’s lives for the better.

“Remember where you came from,” was something my mother always told me growing up, too, and not only did it provide guidance towards finding my purpose, but it was also a reminder of the many lessons that came before me. Your story, especially your life growing up as young Maritza, was especially resounding and I appreciate you taking the time to share it with us in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Thank you.


About ITJuana

ITJuana is devoted to serving fast-growing, high-value market sectors that contribute to the growth of the Cali Baja region. With a nearshore model, working with the highest quality software engineers, data scientists, and creative designers from across Mexico and Latin America, ITjuana enables companies to create world-class software engineering centers of excellence in Tijuana, MX. For more information visit www.itjuana.com

About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data – health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.


New Feature Empowers People to Impact Discovery Even More Directly


When scientific studies are representative of people’s lives, then the discoveries that result will be more broadly applicable to and successful for all. This means we, as study participants and partners, must be able to engage directly with researchers while preserving our privacy. We’re excited to share a new LunaDNA innovation that achieves just that.

The traditional study protocol lacks direct participant engagement and thus limits high-quality, long term data collection, restricts invitations to new studies and clinical trials, and jeopardizes the preservation of personal data privacy. Often, researchers resort to gathering retrospective, fragmented data which misses the critical context of lived experiences of those managing a health condition. Through Luna, we are enabling people to share what their needs and priorities are for improving health and enabling researchers to react to what they are learning, and nimbly adjust their data collection to dig deeper in areas that are showing significant importance.

With study participants more directly involved, researchers can follow up with them to ask for additional information to augment their study, invite them to join new studies and clinical trials, remind them to complete study requests, and share insights from their analyses.

The ability to dynamically reconnect with study participants while they maintain their anonymity is a challenging problem for most platforms because they were not built in a participant-centered manner. LunaDNA was built with privacy-by-design and with individual data control compliant with modern consumer privacy laws like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). LunaDNA enables an intricate connection of participants and their shared data that protects the participants’ privacy, secures their health data, but also enables the possibility of privacy-protected communication between researchers and participants.

What can participants expect?

People control which researchers can contact them based on the communities and studies they join. They can also choose to allow any researchers to contact them, which provides them with opportunities to join studies and clinical trials. When a researcher contacts them, individuals receive an email from LunaDNA informing them they have a message in their account. Once they login, they can access the researcher’s message in their notification center.

To drive better health breakthroughs faster, people must be at the center of research, working alongside researchers to find the answers to our greatest health questions. Recontact Agent™ is one of many LunaDNA solutions that are reshaping the way research is done.

Sign up for LunaDNA today to join the community-breaking barriers in research

Already a member? Log in to your secure account to ensure you’re leveraging Recontact Agent™ to directly contribute to health discovery.


About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data — health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.


LunaPBC Announces Joe Beery as New Chief Executive Officer


New Funding and Leadership Supports Operational and Commercial Scaling

SAN DIEGO, May 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — LunaPBC, manager of LunaDNA, a health data platform uniting people, communities, and researchers, has experienced rapid growth in adoption, as the demand from communities, researchers, and regulators for direct accounting and engagement of individual’s health and lived experience increases. The Company announces new executive leadership and funding to scale its platform and services.

The Company is excited to announce that Mr. Joe Beery has been named Chief Executive Officer of LunaPBC, Inc. effective today. Beery joins President and Co-founder, Dawn Barry, to lead the Company. Bob Kain, LunaPBC’s Co-founder who has served as Chief Executive Officer since Company formation in 2017, will remain active with the Company in the role of Executive Chairman of the Board.

“I am grateful to have had the role of CEO in building this Company,” said Bob Kain. “We have created a novel business model that enables our mission to provide a shared platform for patients, communities, and researchers looking for answers to improve clinical outcomes and quality of life. I am excited to move into a new role within the Company and support Joe in his transition to CEO.”

Beery brings industry-leading experience in operational and commercial scaling of innovative information technology systems, having served as the Chief Information Officer for four multibillion-dollar enterprises – America West Airlines, US Airways, Life Technologies, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. As CEO, Beery will draw on his expertise in strategic technology operations, digital and business transformations, cybersecurity, global M&A integrations, and disruptive innovation to grow the Company and scale LunaDNA technology.

“Joe has been a force in the development of scale in many industries, including at the vanguard in digitalization of the life and health sciences industries,” said Dr. Scott Kahn, LunaPBC’s Chief Information and Privacy Officer. “His deep understanding of digital transformation, scientific research, and therapy development make him an ideal choice to guide the growth of Luna as we continue to empower patients as partners in health science and keep them connected with ongoing research over time.”

With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, LunaDNA technology empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data –  health records, lived-experience, disease history, genomics, and more. LunaDNA technology gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis in compliance with HIPAA, GDPR, and CCPA and across multiple modalities using a common data model. By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, LunaDNA technology transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.

“In addition to Joe’s outstanding business experience, he brings a deeply personal and relevant life experience having had twin children born with a rare genetic disorder that was ultimately diagnosed and treated as a result of their family’s extraordinary activism for their kids,” said Dawn Barry, LunaPBC’s President. “Joe is also a champion for diversity and inclusion, drawing from his Hispanic heritage.”

Beery’s appointment coincides with the close of new funding. Key investors in this round include returning investors, ARCH Venture Partners, F-Prime Capital, and Osage University Partners.  John Tishler and Jason Jones of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP acted as legal counsel for LunaPBC in the financing. The funds will be used to accelerate our goal of digitally transforming health research and include expanding the software engineering and marketing teams, increasing community onboarding-to-discovery velocity, augmenting analysis and discovery tools, and enhancing user experience to optimize participant’s ability to share more health data and outcomes thus further enhancing the discovery potential.

“I am honored to be part of this exciting Company and team. Luna is at the forefront of efforts to digitally integrate individuals, communities, industry, and research,” said Joe Beery. “Luna’s platform and services are ready to scale and drive significant value to all of our customers. From both a personal and professional perspective, I see the alignment in both technology and services that Luna provides as key in accelerating the realization of discovery and patient outcomes. We are in a wonderful position to leverage and scale the unique capabilities built by the Company founders.”


About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data — health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.


New Variants in Alzheimer's Treatment

New Genetic Variants May Unlock Future Therapies for Alzheimer’s

By Contributing Writer Reena Jordyn


About five million — or 1 in 10 — Americans aged 65 and older have symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

While there are medications that help slow down the development of cognitive symptoms, there’s no available treatment to prevent the disease’s progression altogether. AD has been around since the early 1900s, but research on the subject remains scarce. Previously, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) allocated less than $500 million for research focused on AD, less than half of the budget meant for research on other serious conditions like AIDS ($3 billion) and cancer ($5 billion).

Perhaps a number of other factors come into play, too, such as the gender and racial disparities of AD. Of over five million AD incidences in the U.S., two-thirds occur in women. Researchers point to women’s longevity as a major reason behind these figures. Additionally, women’s brain anatomy, function, and development may lend themselves to AD – women’s brains accumulate greater tangle burden than men’s. Furthermore, African-American women, in particular, are twice more likely to acquire AD and other forms of dementia compared to their white peers. Similarly, Hispanic women are also more predisposed to AD, the risks being one and a half times greater than in white women. Differences in health, lifestyle, education, physical activity, and socioeconomic factors are thought to be contributory factors. These disparities and their ensuing bias could’ve been limitations for earlier research— luckily, we’re experiencing societal and scientific progress like never before.

Discovering the Klotho and RBFOX1 Variants
Much of what we know today points to genes playing a major part in the disease’s development. Over three decades ago, scientists have found the gene variant ApoE4 as a main contributor to Alzheimer’s. The prevalence of copies of this gene increases the risk for AD. A recent study by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators discovered a new gene variant that could help stave off AD: klotho. The researchers contrasted the likelihood of AD development in subjects with a single copy of the klotho variant against those without. The results revealed that those carrying one copy of the klotho variant had a 30% lower risk of developing AD. It was found that a single copy of klotho substantially slowed the progression of cognitive symptoms and impairment. And klotho was also seen to lower the beta-amyloid burden in ApoE4 carriers, helping mitigate the onset of dementia.

Another study by Timothy Hohman of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Richard Mayeux of Columbia University Medical Center was able to link a new gene variant to AD. Hohman and Mayeux were able to unearth RBFOX1, a gene variant localized around plaques and in dystrophic neurites, which present heavily in people with AD. This revelation could lead to more advances in gene-specific therapy and precision medicine.

What’s Next for AD Treatment?
Increased awareness about the disease, coupled with stronger support, enables more scientists to conduct more in-depth studies on AD. However, the success of these investigations relies on strong and vast databases, and skilled genetic specialists.

The field needs more scientists, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to cast a wider scope. A top nursing career particularly relevant to this field is genetics nursing. Professionals in this field are in a unique position where they can assist patients suffering from genetic diseases as well as conduct genetic-related research simultaneously. This gives them an invaluable viewpoint of the disease, making them ideal researchers and great educators to patients and their carers too. That being said, AD patients, people predisposed to AD, and even the everyday person should be as proactive as those in the field. You can easily do your part by connecting your personal health records with the Luna platform. By doing so, you give researchers access to genetic and lifestyle data, among other pertinent information, which could thrust health discovery even further.

Every step and every grain of information gained is a huge step forward for Alzheimer’s research. In time, there may even be a medication that could present a cure for the dreaded disease.


About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data — health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.


Genetics of Hair Color

Know Your Health: Genetics of Hair Color

By LunaDNA Contributor


Hair colors are passed down through generations. Sometimes the colors are predictable, and sometimes, unexpected colors occur through a genetic mutation. Learn about the genetics of hair color. 

Hair colors are a spectrum of hues that can range from white blond to coal black. Hair color is inherited, and many genes are involved in the process. Sometimes, unexpected hair color can occur in a child because of a genetic mutation. Some of the genes involved in hair color also influence eye color and skin color.  

Hair color is the result of genetics. Learn about the genetics of hair color and what causes different hair colors in this guide.  

How Is Hair Color Determined? 

Two types of pigment, or melanin, determine hair color. An abundance of eumelanin colors hair black or brown, and an abundance of pheomelanin colors hair orange or red. Every hair color contains some amount of the darker pigment eumelanin. Low levels of eumelanin result in lighter hair, and higher levels result in darker hair.  

The genes responsible for hair color are neither dominant nor recessive — it is a matter of which genes are turned on or turned off. The hair color produced depends on the amount and type of melanin produced by melanocytes (melanin-forming cells). If receptors on the surface of the melanocytes are active, they produce, eumelanin, the pigment responsible for brown or black hair. If the receptors are inactive or blocked, they produce pheomelanin, the pigment responsible for orange or red hair.  

Jet-black hair has large numbers of tightly packed eumelanin. Red hair has large numbers of tightly packed pheomelanin. Blonde hair has both types of melanin, but in very small amounts and loosely packed. Variations lead to a wide range of shades within each hue. Hair color usually darkens as genes are turned on and off during childhood and puberty. Later in life, hair can turn gray and white as fewer pigment cells produce and store melanin. Gray hair has only a little pigment in it, while white hair has no pigment. 

Is Hair Color Genetic? 

Hair color is one of several physical traits that are genetic, or passed down through an individual’s DNA. Human DNA has millions of on and off switches along networks that control how genes function. Genes responsible for hair color come from both parents.  

Although the genes passed down from a child’s parents determine hair color, variations can result in a child having a different hair color than both parents. The genetics of hair color is the result of many genes working together to control the amount and type of melanin. Large amounts of very dense eumelanin produce black hair. Moderate somewhat dense amounts result in brown hair. Very little and thinly dispersed amounts result in blonde hair. If you have mostly pheomelanin with a little eumelanin, red hair is the result. Additionally, a variation in the blond gene can lead to premature graying.  

Is Hair Color Inherited from Mother or Father?

Hair color comes from both parents through the chromosomes passed onto their child. The 46 chromosomes (23 from each parent) have genes made up of DNA with instructions of what traits a child will inherit. The results can be surprising. For example, black-haired parents can unknowingly each carry an unexpressed blond-hair gene that can pass to their fair-haired child. This explains why siblings can have different shades of hair.  

What Does Your Hair Color Mean?

Hair color may be related to your ancestry. Darker hair is more prevalent among people in the southern hemisphere, and lighter hair is more common in the northern hemisphere. Darker hair is associated with areas of harsh sunlight, and lighter hair with areas of less sunshine. However, there are many exceptions due to genetics, migration of people, and other factors. 

Black and Brown Hair

The most common hair colors around the world are black and brown, and it is estimated that over 90 percent of people have black or brown hair. Depending on the levels of pigment, colors range from an almost light-blond brown to dark black.  

Blonde Hair

Blonde hair is produced by low levels of pigment (called eumelanin). Variation in the small amounts of eumelanin accounts for the wide range of blond shades, from platinum blond to dark golden blond. Many people with blond hair develop darker hair later in life. Natural light blond hair in adults is rare.  

Red Hair

Red is the rarest hair color and is thought to be found in around 1 to 2 percent of people worldwide. In the Northern Hemisphere, 2 to 6 percent of people have red hair.  

Red hair ranges from light strawberry blond to deep burgundy, depending on the amount of pheomelanin (red pigment) and eumelanin (brown/black pigment) is present. Auburn hair has a higher concentration of pheomelanin, while chestnut hair has more eumelanin.  

Red hair has fascinated humans throughout history. In fact, the term “redhead” was first noted in the 16th century. In addition, frescos from ancient times depict Hades, the god of the underworld, as a redhead.  

Over time, scientific discoveries have led to a deeper understanding of the genetics that affects hair color. As advancements in genetics and overall health are made, more discoveries will undoubtedly unlock the mysteries of who we are, where we’re from, and why people around the world come in so many shapes, sizes, and hair colors. 

Luna is bringing together people, communities, and researchers to better understand life, including genetic traits like hair color. The more we come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.

Directly drive health discovery by joining the Tell Us About You study


About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data — health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.