Leroy “Lee” Hood is one of biology's living legends. Now 78 years old, he played an influential role in the development of the first automated DNA sequencer, pioneered systems biology, and still leads an institute devoted to it in Seattle, Washington. But his latest venture may not burnish his reputation: a company promoting “scientific wellness,” the notion that intensive, costly monitoring and coaching of apparently healthy people can head off disease.
In a pilot study of the concept, Hood and colleagues compiled what he calls “personal, dense, dynamic data clouds” for 108 people: full genome sequences; blood, saliva, urine, and stool samples taken three times at 3-month intervals and analyzed for 643 metabolites and 262 proteins; and physical activity and sleep monitoring. The team reports in the August issue of Nature Biotechnology that dozens of the participants turned out to have undiscovered health risks, including prediabetes and low vitamin D, which the coaching helped them address...nearly every participant had something to worry about: Ninety-five had low vitamin D levels, 81 had high mercury levels, and 52 were considered prediabetic. One person had high blood levels of the iron-containing protein ferritin and a genetic risk for developing hemochromatosis
Hood says the findings justify commercializing the monitoring, in a service costing thousands of dollars a year. But some colleagues disagree. The effort takes health monitoring “to new heights, or depths, depending on how you look at it,” says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego, California....many of the problems the monitoring uncovered could be detected with simpler and cheaper tests, he adds.Clayton Lewis, one of the subjects in the first study,
...joined with study leaders Nathan Price and Hood to launch the new company, called Arivale, with Lewis as CEO. Now 2 years old, the Seattle-based company has already enrolled 2500 people. They pay a first-year $3499 subscription fee for tracking and analysis similar to the pilot study, and nearly all have opted to let their data be used in research by Hood's Institute of Systems Biology.From Jonathan Berg, a physician scientist who studies cancer and genetics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill:
The problem is that we don't have any idea at all how this information should be used clinically. Topol agrees, noting that he had comparable concerns about a similar barrage of tests on presumably healthy people, including genome sequencing and a full-body MRI scan, from a company launched by another genome legend, J. Craig Venter.