My Visit to the Most Advanced Medical Clinic in the World: Health Nucleus
Sometimes things flow together and this past week a combination of forces brought me to the Health Nucleus clinic in San Diego. I had worked with a super bright futurist, Brad Perkins, M.D., about 6 years ago when he was overseeing development for a medical system in Detroit but then I lost track of him. I knew of the pioneering work of Craig Venter who raced the Human Genome Project to sequence a complete human genome and beat them out with a celebration at the White House in 2000. I had heard that in 2013 Venter had teamed up with Peter Diamandis, M.D., a physician and futurist interested in space, to form Human Longevity, Inc. in California, using genomics with the goal of extending healthy human lifespan. Over $400 million has been raised to support their projects. I heard that Brad Perkins, M.D. had been appointed Chief Medical Officer of the startup. Last year I learned that they had launched the Health Nucleus clinic to offer whole genome sequencing (WGS), now at a fraction of the cost compared with the millions Venter spent 15 years before. Last year the only offer was a visit for WGS, imaging and analysis at the hefty price tag of $25,000 and I balked, although I was intrigued. I learned just last month that they were now offering a visit at a fraction of the expense with the core of the WGS and total body MRI scanning intact. As I had a trip planned to San Diego for a medical conference, I booked a visit and testing as all the stars were aligned.
The 5 story sleek building has Human Longevity, Inc. on the outside but around the corner is an entrance to the Health Nucleus. This is a large, welcoming, and ultra-modern space with a reception team reminiscent of walking into a Ritz-Carlton. I had already filled out medical history forms (no issues) and consent forms acknowledging I might learn of genetics or conditions that could be adverse to my plans to be dancing at 120 years of age. I was escorted to my private room, changed into branded scrub pants and a T-shirt, and met with a medical assistant. I was anticipating being drained of 10 tubes of blood but I had only 1 tube taken for my WGS. The staff did not need it but there was near- infrared device that demonstrates the veins under the skin to facilitate blood drawing if needed.
I then was escorted to the MRi suite where I spent 90 minutes having a non-contrast whole body MRI, head to toe, that created over 1,000,000 images of my body. I picked the Pandora channel of my choice (Eros Ramazotti) and the ceiling video I wanted for relaxation (tropical fish). The time went by quickly and it was not claustrophobic. Finally, I provided a stool sample for a microbiome analysis and the visit was complete. I will receive some results from a counselor in 2–3 weeks (I suspect the MRI findings) and the rest about 6–8 weeks later, likely the WGS and microbiome.
As a special treat, I then went up to the 5th floor and visited Dr. Perkins. He provided an overview of the operations and the big picture of their vision of the future of medicine. They believe that the model of WGS and non-contrast advanced MRI will be the new physical exam of the future providing early detection, disease prevention, and personalized medicine. It will be a platform for early detection and prevention targeting the 50 to 74 year-old who is at risk of premature death from age-related chronic diseases by building risk models. He told me that they had done over 45,000 WGS assessments and although the cost was dropping, the testing and analysis still was in the few thousands of dollars. To support all the data, they have focused on bio-information as the key, with a project on the scale of social media. Storage and manipulation of large data sets requires partners and they are one of Amazon’s largest customers for cloud storage. They also have a team in Mountainview working on machine learning and artificial intelligence to manipulate the information automatically and intuitively. Prominently displayed in Dr. Perkins office was a poster outlining the determinants of health. Rather sobering was the analysis that medical care was only 10% of health outcomes.
I am now going to await my results and keep on leading a preventive lifestyle focused on optimal nutrition, sleep, fitness, and stress management. I am aware that there is a 1/40 chance of the results at the clinic indicating an early stage cancer. Ironically, even Venter was found to have an early prostate cancer last year because of the advanced evaluation and has had surgery for that issue. I will write a follow up article when the results are in.