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An experiment that "treats each person as his or her own experiment"

DNA_Wellcome_ImagesMany of us rely on rudimentary measurements — such as the number on our scale, our cholesterol level, or the ability to fit into our skinny jeans — as feedback about whether we need to exercise more, eat healthier or make other lifestyle changes to maintain our health. But what if we based these decisions on data about our personal genome and information about major organs and biological systems? Could we more effectively prevent chronic diseases?

A pilot project being launched next month by the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle aims to answer this question. The project, known as the Hundred Person Wellness Project, will sequence the entire genome of 100 healthy people upon enrollment and then collect data on key health metrics at daily and three-month intervals for a total of nine months. Throughout the study, participants will have access to their personal data points and work with wellness coaches, as well as their own doctors, to use the information to make adjustments to their medical treatments or health behaviors.

Some researchers have expressed concerns about the validity of the study because it lacks a control group and allows individuals to make lifestyle changes while the experiment is underway. Nature reports:

[Leroy Hood, MD, PhD, president of the Institute for Systems Biology,] acknowledges the possible problems. But he counters that the existing clinical-trial system is “totally failing” because it cannot control for peoples’ different genetics and environments. The Hundred Person Wellness Project, he adds, recognizes that those differences are paramount, and treats each person as his or her own experiment. “We can follow things very carefully with each person and see how they respond,” he says.

Atul Butte, head of systems medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, is inclined to grant Hood the benefit of the doubt. He says that an innovative study of this kind might indeed pick up the earliest hints of disease: “They may not end up proving that all these individuals benefit from the study in one particular way, but they may end up showing that all these individuals benefit from the study in their own individual ways.”

Previously: Developing the “Internet of Genes” to enable the secure sharing of genomic data, A call to use the “tsunami of biomedical data” to preserve life and enhance health, Atul Butte discusses why big data is a big deal in biomedicine and Ask Stanford Med: Genetics chair answers your questions on genomics and personalized medicine
Photo by Wellcome Images

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