Noted journalist and author David Ewing Duncan kicked off the Wednesday session of FutureMed by discussing personalized medicine and his work on the Experimental Man Project. The experiment, which is “ongoing,” is what Duncan described as a “humanized” way to look at personalized medicine, which can be useful in explaining the technology to the masses. He argued that personalized medicine stands in stark contrast to traditional medicine, which is “one-size-fits-all” and tries to fit patients “into a box.”
Pharmaceuticals are one of the most-needed applications of personalized medicine, he said, and the response rates for many drugs are pretty dismal. For instance, antidepressants don’t work for about 40% of people because they aren’t targeted for specific demographics based on genomic data. There is a low response rate to oncology drugs right now, Duncan added, but “we are getting better at targeting the drug to the right physiology.”
More on the Experimental Man Project
Duncan provided some more information on his background in the Experimental Man Project, explaining that his work on it began about 10 years ago with an article he wrote for Wired. As a result of this undertaking, Duncan set out to have his genome sequenced and “was one of the first” patients to have done so.
“It is very important to understand the fact that when we talk about personalized medicine, it is not just genomics but it is also things like the impact of the environment,” Duncan said. For the project, he has also had a good deal of lab work done. As the Experimental Man website explains, he has endured the following for the sake of the project:
Liters of blood drawn … 1.7
Hours in an MRI … 22
Gigabytes of data produced … 100+
Number of chemical toxins tested for … 320
Number of toxins detected … 165
Number of gene markers tested for, in millions … 7-10
“But after collecting all of this data, it has not greatly enlightened me,” Duncan said.
One of the reasons why is that there is now a dearth of technology available to make the data actionable. “To all of the entrepreneurs in the room, please don’t create any more companies that just create more data. Create companies that interpret the data,“ he said.
Duncan then proceeded to explain some of the information he had gleaned from his many test results.
- He has a –40% (decreased) risk of getting Alzheimers’s
- According to which test results you look at, he has either a +20% (elevated) or –30% decreased risk of having a heart attack. “We need to get this story straight; we shouldn’t have different results from different tests,” he explained.
- He said that, according to his genomics profile, he had a “high risk for low empathy.” He then quipped: “But I don’t really care what you think about that.”
- He has an elevated risk for Warfarin sensitivity
- And he is a fast caffeine metabolizm, which explains why he “can drink coffee pretty much any time I want.”
As for environmental toxins, he said that he had a DDT exposure that was 50% higher than the national mean. “I grew up in the Midwest where they were still spraying this stuff. And weirdly enough, I have high levels of DDT.”
His exposure to flame retardants was1200% higher than the national mean. “I fly a lot,” he said. “And I understand that planes are drenched in flame retardants.
Duncan said that his mercury level has tested as high as 1300% above the national mean. To reach that level, he started eating fish known to have high mercury levels twice per day.
He summed up his talk saying that the science behind personalized medicine is in need of validation and that, as data from this research piles up, that integration of the data will be crucial going forward. In addition, massive computing resources will be needed to store this data. “If everyone is sequenced, we are talking about hundreds of zettabytes of data.”
Link: Experimental Man…