Fitness and Health Gadgets: Tracking your Life

Medical Measurements with YourFutureHealth

Are you eating and living Healthy? You can measure your activity, check your blood pressure and have your cholesterol measured, but what about your lactoferrin levels or your prostate-specific antigens, or the amount of c-reactive protein in your blood – which can correlate with how likely you are to develop heart disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, prostate cancer or inflammatory bowel diseases? If you don’t want to wait for your doctor to decide it’s time for a blood test, or you want to find out what levels of various blood chemicals are normal for you (which can vary significantly between individuals), you can use a service like Your Future Health (www.yourfuturehealth.com) to analyze blood and even stool samples.

That’s what some are predicting as the future of personalized medicine. Larry Smarr, the director for the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information technology, has been treating himself as a lab rat - tracking around 50 different blood chemicals with quarterly blood tests for several years (as well as using systems like the BodyMedia FIT Armband to track his activity). His doctor wasn’t concerned that his C-RP level was five times higher than normal despite what most people would view as a healthy diet because he didn’t have any symptoms; when he did have an acute attack of gastric pain the doctor dismissed it as diverticulitis – but Smarr checked his blood results and saw his C-RP level at the time of the attack was fifteen times higher than normal.

Larry Smarr’s chart of his C-RP levels – and his symptoms – from the presentation he gives to explain self tracking.Larry Smarr’s chart of his C-RP levels – and his symptoms – from the presentation he gives to explain self tracking.

At this point he started tracking another chemical – lactoferrin, which indicates inflammatory bowel disease – and while this dropped when he took the antibiotics prescribed, it started climbing again. At this point he found a new doctor who did a colonoscopy, a biopsy – and diagnosed him with Crohn’s disease (a form of IBD). Smarr used the 23andme service to get an analysis of his DNA to discover which genetic variants he has; the mutation on his Interleukin-23 receptor gene makes it far more likely that his immune system is going to be prone to these kinds of inflammations.

Checking for lactoferrin levels; Larry Smarr’s test results show another indication of bowel disease, even without symptoms.Checking for lactoferrin levels; Larry Smarr’s test results show another indication of bowel disease, even without symptoms.

At around $500 for the initial set of tests from YourFutureHealth (with interpretation) and another $300 for further sets of tests or $395 for a DNA analysis from 23andme, this kind of medical monitoring is for early adopters trying to solve persistent problems rather than something to try because you’re curious. But Smarr predicts that this kind of testing will be absolutely routine – and far cheaper – in the next five to ten years, and that it’s going to make a significant change in the way we diagnose and treat disease. And Smarr is quite good at predicting the future; in his previous job running the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, he supervised a graduate student called Marc Andreessen when he worked on the first graphical Web browser – the basis for both Netscape and Internet Explorer.