Recently, I discovered that my heart-attack risk is frighteningly high over the next 10 to 20 years. This alarming prognosis was achieved using technology that could potentially be good news for the health-care reform effort being attempted in Washington. Amid bailouts and numbing deficits, this kind of personalized medicine might even help save billions or possibly trillions of dollars over the next decade or two.
My heart, the nation’s economy, and health-care reform are connected through an experimental test that I took last year that delivered my dire forecast. Created by Entelos, a company that performs computer simulations to make predictions about a person’s health, the test gathered data on my cholesterol levels, a heart CT scan, a genetic profile, and more, and fed the results into a powerful computer.
What popped out is a prediction that the company claims is not only customized to my own genes and physiology, but also factors in far more variables than traditional heart-risk tests.
Entelos was on track to raise money to refine and launch its test commercially within a year or two. But in the current economic climate, sources of funding have become more difficult, delaying the final development and launch of the test.
The company is hardly alone. Other potentially promising discoveries almost ready for prime time include protein markers that can target and trace therapies for cancer, and new discoveries in fields ranging from neurological disorders to diabetes. Likewise, thousands of gene markers associated with diseases have been identified by researchers. Companies such as 23andme, deCODEme, and Navigenics offer tests for some of them, although the approach has yet to be validated by clinical testing.
What’s missing is a comprehensive plan to push these efforts to the next stage, not only in terms of science and medicine, but also in terms of patent law, regulation, ethics, and finance. What’s needed is a Human Genome Project level of focus on personalized and preventive medicine for major diseases. Let’s call it the Personalized Health Project.
The Human Genome Project cost $2.7 billion and took more than a decade to complete. A Personalized Health Project would similarly cost in the low billions and take between 10 and 20 years, although unlike the genome project, which was completed only at the end of a long process, the personalized project could begin producing results almost from the start.