Pioneers of health: Scientific wellness and the studies changing health care

Some people want to understand how and why their body ticks the way it does. They want a peek at their genes, a glimpse of their gut bacteria. These curious minds see knowledge as a way to wield some control over their own body, health and future. 

Kathryn is in this camp. Given a chance to participate in a three-year study to potentially improve her health while also contributing to scientific discovery, Kathryn* didn’t hesitate to sign on. 

“I’m interested in optimal health and optimal performance,” Kathryn said. “And I’m intellectually curious. The idea that all the data could be interpreted and shared as information to optimize my health is intriguing. I want to see how it works.” 

The Providence-Arivale Feasibility Study of Scientific Wellness is collecting biological data from 1,000 participants by analyzing genome, blood, saliva, microbiome and lifestyle. Participants choose a professional licensed health coach who helps them decipher their genetic makeup and biology, and develops a wellness plan based on the analysis of the data. 

The study is a unique collaboration between Providence St. Joseph Health; the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), its research affiliate; and Arivale, an ISB spinout that leverages personalized data and tailored health coaching to help participants achieve optimal wellness. 

The underpinning of the study is scientific wellness, an approach pioneered by ISB that shifts the focus of health care from managing or curing disease after symptoms arise to identifying health concerns at their earliest stages and providing actionable recommendations as a means of prevention. Scientific wellness embodies the essence of P4 medicine – health care that is predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory. With this approach, individuals have a better chance of slowing, or even avoiding the transition into certain disease states and maintaining wellness for a lifetime. Scientific wellness will eventually eliminate most chronic diseases. 

What she learned

After registering for the study in September, Kathryn had blood drawn at a lab near her home. She also sent saliva and microbiome (fecal) samples to Arivale. Within a few weeks, the analyses of her data arrived in an email with a link to a dashboard structured by five health dimensions: diabetes risk, heart health, healthy aging, inflammation, optimal nutrition and stress management. By then, Kathryn had chosen a coach to help her decipher the dense information. “It’s pretty complex stuff,” she said. 

She made a phone call to her coach and together they combed through the results. Kathryn was surprised by what she learned: Her body doesn’t efficiently absorb omega-3 or vitamin D, she’s not predisposed to diabetes and she has mid-level taste receptors. There were other surprises, too, but they’re health issues that can be managed. 

It was a lot to take in, but Kathryn’s coach answered her questions. She created a personalized plan that included diet modifications, lifestyle changes and even grocery list recommendations. “She’s really committed to helping me,” Kathryn said. Her coach checks in on a regular basis and answers her phone or responds to a text.

Data for the health of all

Kathryn’s personal data (genetics, lifestyle) now lives in a “personal, dense, dynamic data  cloud,” a virtual filing cabinet of sorts. Every six months for the next three years of the study Kathryn will have blood drawn and on an annual basis, and she will send new samples of saliva and microbiome to Arivale. All this information, plus changes in her lifestyle or environment, will contribute to her personal cloud, which she will use as her wellness roadmap. 

The data contained in personal clouds is doing more than helping individuals reach optimal health, however. Indeed, it’s also contributing to a massive information-rich resource for ISB researchers to study for the greater health and wellness for all. Personal data is de-identified and aggregated with the genetic and lifestyle information of thousands – and eventually millions – of other participants with their own data clouds. 

This remarkable resource enables researchers to draw correlations, identify and detail transitions between wellness and disease. In simple terms, all this data will translate into new discoveries and ways for people to live healthier and possibly longer lives.

“For every single major type of disease, we will be able to get the biomarkers for the earliest transitions from the data clouds,” said Leroy Hood, M.D., Ph.D., president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, and senior vice president and chief science officer, Providence St. Joseph Health. “Then we can use the data clouds to actually make predictions about the drugs or the therapies that could reverse these diseases at their very earliest stages.” 

Dr. Hood’s view is that scientific wellness should not only be a lifetime journey, but he predicts this will be the preventive medicine of the future, when no one reaches the stage of irreversible disease.

Knowledge is power

Kathryn likes the fact her participation in the study will contribute to the future of medicine. Any concerns she had about registering for it have been diminished by the experience – and the outcome of the analysis. “I had some concern that they would find something genetically that I really don’t want to know about,” she said. But that’s not the focus of the trials – it’s about optimizing wellness and prevention. 

In fact, Arivale does not report on single gene diseases. It only reports on those genes where there is a gene-environment interaction and an actionable recommendation for the participant to improve wellness.

Now that her worries are diffused, she’s thinking about what part of her might have been passed down to her daughter. She’s convinced her parents to register with Arivale for their own personal analysis. Eventually, her husband and his parents will do the same so they can get a pretty good snapshot of their daughter’s genetics, and things that might help optimize her whole family’s health.

In the future, everyone may have a personal data cloud to direct their health care, from birth to end of life. Until then research will benefit from the curious and proactive types who want to know as much as possible about who they are on the inside, and how they can maintain their health during every phase of life. 

If you’re interested in learning more about your genetics and biomarkers, and how to address your diet and lifestyle for optimal wellness, visit Arivale.com.

To learn more about the Institute for Systems Biology, visit their website where you can learn more about scientific wellness, the future of health care and the unique collaboration between Providence St. Joseph Health and ISB.

 
*Kathryn requested that only her first name be used. 

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