The endeavor would link up genetics with promising research on the impact of environmental factors affecting disease. The Entelos model is one example of how scientists are attempting to combine these different disciplines in order to provide personalized profiles of an individual’s health future–not only risk factors for disease, but also alternative scenarios based on diet and lifestyle that can increase or decrease the likelihood of cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
In my case, the heart-attack model provided me with three distinct scenarios over the next 20 years. First was a heart-stopping risk factor of 40 percent in 10 years that I will have a heart attack and a nearly 70 percent risk factor in 20 years. But this dire forecast only happens if I gain a modest amount of weight: about a pound a year, the average weight gain for a man over age 40. If my weight flatlines, the risk falls to only about 2 percent. If I take cholesterol-lowering statins, my risk falls to zero.
I took the Entelos test seriously enough that I dropped 10 pounds, having gained a pound a year since turning 40 (I’m now 51).
Whether my new leanness will actually save me from a heart attack has yet to be determined. Nor can I be sure that the Entelos model is accurate, because the company hasn’t run the extensive clinical trials with the thousands of patients needed to validate the test.
Once funded, Entelos would like to offer its test for less than $1,000 as volume increases. This price tag might seem high, but not if it substantially delays or prevents the need for, say, a diagnostic cardiac catheterization that costs $25,322 or a heart bypass operation that runs $85,633. The cost also has to be weighed against the $448 billion spent last year in direct and indirect costs for heart disease among the 80 million Americans who suffer from this malady.
Would a $1,000 test given to, say, people over 50 with borderline high cholesterol put off or eliminate debilitating and costly treatments?
No one knows. Nor will we know for sure unless we provide the organized push needed to find out.
David Ewing Duncan is the author of Experimental Man: What one man’s body reveals about his future, your health, and our toxic world.