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Leroy Hood Describes Promising Results From Pilot Stage of ISB's 100K Wellness Project

EDMONTON, CANADA (GenomeWeb) – In light of encouraging early results from a pilot study for the 100K Wellness Project, Institute for Systems Biology head Leroy Hood and his colleagues are setting their sights on academic and commercial strategies for expanding their systems medicine-based wellness programs.

Speaking at a Canada Gairdner symposium on frontiers in cell biology at the University of Alberta this week, ISB President and Co-founder Hood outlined the rationale behind P4 medicine and introduced attendees to the 100K Wellness Project, a Framingham-style longitudinal study that started to take shape last year.

For the pilot phase of the study, which took place between March and December of 2014, the team did whole-genome sequencing on 107 "pioneer" individuals.

These participants submitted blood, urine, saliva, and fecal samples every three months for metabolite, proteomic, and gut microbiome testing. They also provided information on their lifestyle habits, including measurements taken with wearable fitness trackers.

Doctor-advised professional coaches then relayed insights gleaned from each individual's virtual data cloud back to them, offering the pioneers information on changes they could make to potentially enhance their health or dodge disease, Hood said, noting that "actionable opportunities" were identified in all of the pilot participants.

When the study began, the team found that many of participants — who were mostly Caucasian and upper middle class — showed signs of nutritional abnormalities, inflammation, or pre-diabetic features, which could often be mitigated by targeted lifestyle changes.

For example, three individuals with high blood mercury saw a return to normal levels of the heavy metal by swapping out tuna for salmon in their sushi selections.

This combination of immediate feedback, personal involvement, and positive re-enforcement appeared to work for the pilot stage of the project, Hood said, and participants followed actionable guidelines about 70 percent of the time.

While some individuals showed apparent shifts toward improved wellness over the course of the study pilot, the researchers also identified some participants who transitioned from wellness to disease over the course of the pilot study.

The network of individual data that accompany such changes provide clues for the individual involved, Hood explained, and are expected to inform future strategies for performing systems medicine-based wellness tracking and disease management.

More broadly, the results made it possible to start looking at relationships between individuals' phenotypes, their own genetic profiles, and the metabolic capabilities of the microbes they carry — analyses that were guided by, and compared with, results for other individuals and findings from prior genome-wide association and gut microbiome studies.

For instance, the microbes present in individuals' gut communities formed a continuum of microbial diversity that offered some insights into their propensity for conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Nevertheless, Hood noted that gut microbiome patterns appeared to be the least reliable of the datasets that he and his team have looked at so far, suggesting there is a ways to go in accurately assaying this aspect of human health.

For such wellness-focused efforts to reach their potential, further advances are needed to measure still other health metrics, including immune function, he argued. Investments will likely be required to put together databases describing various health-disease transitions and to better analyze the ever-expanding collections of multi-faceted data.

Individuals who participated in the pilot project have expressed interest in continuing on in the 100K Wellness Project, he said, and most saw access to their clouds of data as a means of taking control of their health.

For their part, the researchers are exploring academic avenues for expanding the project through partnerships with medical institutes, companies, and countries. Hood noted that some 10,000 or so individuals may be deeply phenotyped through a newly-introduced company called Wellness Services.