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How one quantified-self patient is working to transform health care

There's a fascinating profile of Larry Smarr, PhD, a physicist turned quantified-self pioneer in Technology Review today. Over the years, Smarr has scrupulously measured and tracked his own biological data using laboratory analysis services and devices that monitor his sleep, fitness and eating habits. The information not only improved his health but lead to a surprising diagnosis. Jon Cohen writes:

Smarr, who directs the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology in La Jolla, dropped from 205 to 184 pounds and is now a fit 63-year-old. But his transformation transcends his regular exercise program and carefully managed diet: he has become a poster man for the medical strategy of the future. Over the past decade, he has gathered as much data as he can about his body and then used that information to improve his health. And he has accomplished something that few people at the forefront of the "quantified self" movement have had the opportunity to do: he helped diagnose the emergence of a chronic disease in his body.


On top of his pioneering computer science work—he advocated for the adoption of ARPAnet, an early version of the Internet, and students at his University of Illinois center developed Mosaic, the first widely used browser—Smarr spent 25 years as an astrophysicist focused on relativity theory. That gave him the expertise to chart several of his biomarkers over time and then overlay the longitudinal graphs to monitor everything from the immune status of his gut and blood to the function of his heart and the thickness of his arteries. His meticulously collected and organized data helped doctors discover that he has Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disease.

As the story goes on to explain, Smarr plans to go public with his personal health data and is working to convince others to do the same in hopes that crowdsourcing the information will generate new insights about the links between DNA sequences, biomarkers and disease. The article is well worth a read and both illustrates and foreshadows the ongoing digital transformation of medicine

Previously: How the C3N project is working to rewrite the medical script and empower patients and ePatient discusses how web-savvy patients are changing the practice of medicine.
Photo by Spanish Flea

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