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Wake up world! The future isn’t in “affordable health care,” it’s in genomics; genomic medicine to be exact. While the masses grasp for the hope of equality, the real world manifests duplicity. Standard health care may, in fact, become etched into the collective consciousness as a so-called entitlement, but cutting edge will always go to those who can afford it.

Take medical genomics, for example—it has been plugged as the next panacea since penicillin for over a decade now. But civilization may finally be on the verge of its newest major paradigm: man-machine integration—a synthesis of super-human existence through the assimilation of technology with biology. And it appears that genomic medicine is the beginning.

Leading the charge to bring genomic medicine to the mainstream is Human Longevity Inc., a company founded by genomics-pioneer Craig Venter; a sort of Larry Ellison meets Robert Jarvik meets Deepak Chopra. Venter and Human Longevity Inc. are no dummies when it comes to the big bucks inherent in genomic medicine, and they’ve got a plan to get every man, woman and child sequenced—that’s biotech speak for mapping the genome.

The belief has been that to know one’s genome is to have the best form of prevention available, because we all know that genetics is everything when it comes to health…right? I mean anybody following health news could see that genetics has become the cultural health authority’s explanatory standby for many of medicine’s biggest mysteries. Everything from cancer, to heart disease , to Alzheimer’s would be at the mercy of genomic medicine, for if the genetic code is the blueprint of life, then surely the cause, and cure, for many diseases has to be wrapped up into the code in some way.

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Human Longevity Inc. founder Craig Venter

The big idea behind genomic medicine is that everyday people like you and me would be wise to get our genomes sequenced. By comparing our genome to that of a database, we can determine where we fall into the health norm, and where, by mutation or risk thereof, we might be susceptible to illness, disease or faulty physiology (think high cholesterol).

But the coolest thing about this story, by far, is that “the first complete (six-billion-letter) genome of an individual human” ever sequenced was Venter’s itself. While working for Celera Genomics, another company he founded, but which was seeded by private investors, Venter switched his own DNA with the composite samples the company had planned on sequencing (in its race against the government-funded Human Genome Project). As a result the first mapped human genomes belong to Venter and DNA double helix discoverer, James Watson (also financed by private company), of Watson and Crick fame.

According to his biography, and the original genome sequencing publication, some chains in Venter’s genome are associated with wet earwax, increased risk of antisocial behavior, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases. Can you see the ginormous benefits here? Vetner does, and he always has: His company Human Longevity Inc. is setting out to make what industry insiders have long thought to be economically prohibitive—the cost of sequencing—affordable for all. At $1,000 a pop, many genetics-is-the-answer-to-everything proponents are singing the praises of this move. Venter’s goal with Human Longevity Inc. is to sequence 40, 000 human genomes a year, in a search for new therapies for some of today’s most tenacious diseases. The low-cost of sequencing, due in part to what Venter calls “pretty stunning” recent advances, promises to fulfill this mission of creating a comprehensive human genomic database over the upcoming years, and genomics is “just on the threshold” of delivering results, Venter says.

personalized med (Copy)Knowing one’s individual genomic sequence, the idea goes, will lead to highly personalized treatments, and that’s where the real money is to be made. Venter and Human Longevity Inc. have thus decided to take on cancer first.

“We’ve still only scratched the surface of what the genome holds,” said Jay Flatley, Chief Executive at Illumina Inc., makers of the HiSeq X Ten machine, a high-speed sequencer can map a single genome for as little as $1,000. Compare that to the government-funded Human Genome Project which spent $3 billion and took 13 years to sequence the human genome. “What we need to do now is get hundreds of thousands to millions of genomes in databases with clinical information.”

Can you see where we’re headed? Listen I am not suggesting this is a bad thing at all, in and of itself—just pointing out the direction medicine is going. But if you think the ground-breaking treatments that are discovered as a result of this technology, if any at all, will be cheap, then…can I offer you another bucket of Obama Care?

Understand that dirt cheap genome sequencing is mostly a way to get the data base populated and paid for by consumers, a win-win if you happen to think that genetics is the answer to most of mankind’s health woes. While the consumer receives a ‘blue print’ of their potential problems—“you’re at risk for heart disease, NOW you’ll exercise, won’t you? God bless genomic medicine”the biotech/health industry gets…well, cha-ching!

And, again, that’s not a bad thing; but the treatments may not necessarily be offered up as standard care. Worse yet will be the potential for standard care to simply become a litany of lifestyle drugs—à la statins, antidepressants and Ritalin—sold as prevention. Don’t underestimate the drive for profit in every new paradigm. And I have no reason to believe that genomic sequencing itself won’t be covered by insurers. That’s a no-brainer: Anything that promises to reduce insurance reimbursements through prevention (wink, wink), and maybe even uncover some potential risks so important in evaluating any insured-to-be, will be accepted with open arms by the insurance industry. These economic factors make it clear to me, along with Venter and many other string-pullers, that medical genomics is the next frontier in modern medicine.


But again I believe the greatest use of genomic sequencing will be for those that can afford it—not the sequencing itself, because at $1,000 a pop it’s a bargain. Venter and other biomedical entrepreneurs are smart enough to know that the current ‘sickness’ paradigm lends its way perfectly to swaying the masses in the direction of needing to know their genetic susceptibility to disease, so offering sequencing for a modest price (relative to the sophistication of the technology) is a rather genius form of seed-planting.

No the real costs, and profits, will come as the actual actions one takes to prevent their potentialities from expressing—in the form of double mastectomies, bariatric surgery, lifestyle drugs, and so forth. Health care entitlement will be to know, in this case to know one’s susceptibility to disease, while the actual doing something about it will cost. Your doctor’s opinion will no longer be enough to keep you medicalized for life—for that you will need genetic proof. And thanks to Venter and his colleagues within the biomedical sciences business, genomic medicine will be that proof.

Happy sequencing.

Here’s a real estate tip: You’ll find massive deals on homes and rentals located next to freeways in the near future.  How do I know?  Because recent research shows that the air around freeways is filled with tiny particles and debris that could lead to brain damage, so you’d be crazy to move near a highway or major commuter road.  Check it:

Researchers from the University of Southern California reported in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that mice subjected to freeway air (not actual freeways) showed gradual brain damage.  Mice neurons for learning and memory were considerably damaged, while signs of premature aging and Alzheimer’s disease were detected in their inflamed brains.  And in developing mice that were exposed to freeway air, neurons did not grow as well as they did in those not exposed to the pollution.  Wow!

The real genius of this study lies in the development of freeway air recreated by scientists.  Co-author, Constantinos Sioutas, developed technology that captured freeway particles–nanoscopic particles from 12-200 nanometers, approximately one-thousandth of the width of a single human hair–in a liquid suspension, which was then used to expose the mice to for relatively short periods (total of 150 hours spread over ten weeks, three five-hour sessions per week).

Freeway air is made up not of gasoline but a mixture of paving material, weathering car parts and burning fossil fuel.  Nice!  To think we’re breathing this muck on a daily basis.  And before you take comfort in your car’s filtration system, just know that nanoscale particulate matter (nPM) passes right through these filters.  Yikes!

Senior author, Professor Caleb Finch, said:

“You can’t see them, but they are inhaled and have an effect on brain neurons that raises the possibility of long-term brain health consequences of freeway air.”

Yes, yes…I know mice ain’t man, but mammalian are we both, and what happens to our rodent ancestors could, and probably does, happen to us.  If they are exhibiting brain damage from 150 hours of exposure, then what the heck is happening to our nervous systems on Route 66?  And what can we do about it?

Well, Electric cars aren’t the answer, researchers point out, because the particulates would still be floating around in the air.  Says Finch,

“It would certainly sharply decrease the local concentration of nanoparticles, but then at present, electrical generation still depends upon other combustion processes – coal – that in a larger environment contribute nanoparticles anyway.

It’s a long-term global project to reduce the amount of nanoparticles around the world. Whether we clean up our cars, we still have to clean up our power generation.”

Human autopsies in Mexico found significantly more signs of brain inflammation and early aging among deceased individuals in Mexico City, compared to people in other cities with less pollution…and I live in Los Angeles!

So here’s my advice: Unless you’re looking for dirt-cheap housing, I’d stay away from condos with the freeway view.  We get enough polluted air as it is–nobody needs to freebase it through their front door.  As for our drive-all-day-culture…well, I’ve made it a priority to live close to work, but I do realize that not everybody has that luxury.  Perhaps to you long-distance commuters, I’d say: Stay home on the weekends, and maybe even move to the country.  Hopefully we’ll figure out this pollution mess before we all become the walking demented.

How can seniors both reduce the effects of aging on the brain and give back to society? By tutoring children, that’s how. And it is exactly what thousands of elders are doing–teaching kids how to read, write and do math–giving many of the older folk a renewed sense of purpose.

According to a recent study, seniors who have volunteered for Experience Corps, a program matching elementary students in low-income schools with seniors who serve as tutors, showed improvements in the “executive function” regions of the brain involved in thinking and the ability to organize multiple tasks. The children had much greater reading comprehension and ability to sound out words compared to kids who were not tutored.

The study looked at eight women considered high risk of cognitive impairment because of their low income status, low education level [they had only completed an average of 12 years of school (high school)] and low scores on a cognition test. Researchers say that these preliminary results are encouraging, especially if they can carry over to prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Very nice. And no surprise to me. I know how important keeping the mind sharp is to staying young and vibrant. Obvious? Not really. The process of learning is instrumental in creating new dendrites, which leads to new processing pathways formed in the brain. New processing pathways = youth. Old processing pathways = wisdom. Youth + wisdom = vibrancy, influence and growth. Who doesn’t value that?

Research shows that keeping the mind conditioned through systematic mental exercise can protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, physical exercise helps too–particularly cardiovascular work–and we know how vital staying social is to warding off cognitive decline; but when it comes to maximal brain function and protection, nothing beats good old fashioned learning.

On a final note, there is evidence that having “purpose” can actually prolong life–and volunteering is one phenomenal way to go about it. A recent study showed that retirees over age 65 who volunteered had less than half the risk of dying compared to their non-volunteering peers. Now that’s impressive. If you love helping others, consider volunteering your time and mental prowess to teaching children how to read and solve equations. Really, it’s a win-win situation–they get smarter and you keep trucking. Now what can be better than that?

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Nick Campos - All Rights Reserved.