Some physicians have complained about the test, arguing that looking for so many biomarkers is bound to uncover many out-of-range values in perfectly healthy individuals. That is true, but it misses the point: the test looks at the biomarkers in combination, not in isolation, so that the relative biomarker levels serve as the basis for diagnoses. “Just the fact that we stack so many biomarkers really minimizes false positives,” comments Mark Chandler, CEO and founder of Biophysical.
The firm has basically miniaturized the standard blood tests through the use of tiny polystyrene beads, each about half the size of a red blood cell. Each sphere is coated with a particular antibody. (Antibodies are disease-fighting agents made by the immune system that recognize specific protein molecules, typically from invading microbes.) The serum from the blood sample mixes with the beads for 15 to 30 minutes, allowing the antibodies to grab onto the proteins they recognize. After the serum is washed away, another of the same set of antibodies goes in. This time, though, each antibody also has a fluorescent tag. The tagged antibodies sandwich the blood proteins already held by the first set of antibodies. Examining the fluorescent tags thus provides “an idea of how much of the chemical was pulled out of serum,” explains Chandler, who began selling the Biophysical250 assessment in 2005.
My report arrived two weeks later via FedEx. It included a well-written summary plus a quantitative laboratory report. A second booklet defined all the biomarkers and the ailments with which they correlated. In terms of health, the most useful part is the summary of biomarkers organized by type: autoimmune, cancer, cardiovascular, cell signaling, diabetes, endocrine, hematology, immune/inflammation, infectious disease, nutritional, organ systems and osteoarthritic. Next to each biomarker was a color code, depending on whether the detected amount was out of range: green for “low risk,” yellow for “caution” and red for “alert.” The report also came with a copy to give to my personal physician; Biophysical will discuss the results with a client’s doctor. I also later had a telephone consultation about my results with George Rodgers, the company’s president and cardiovascular specialist.
My results were mind-numbingly normal. Most everything came up green. The only surprise was my slightly out-of-range ferritin, a protein that stores iron. My report warned me that such iron overload might signal a genetic condition called hemochromatosis. The disease progresses silently and can cause toxic levels of iron to build up in organs. The treatment is simple: regular blood donations to drain off the excess iron. On the other hand, my ferritin level might reflect the fact that I had been taking a multivitamin with iron—a no-no for healthy men, I later discovered. I stopped, and when I had my regular physician check my ferritin levels seven months later, they had dropped to within a normal range.
And therein lies a great strength of Biophysical250: it can uncover a presymptomatic, potentially fatal disease that physicians might not ordinarily test for. The firm reports that in an unpublished study of 120 clients, 15 turned out to have major health risks and another 27 indicated moderate risks; none showed outward signs of disease. The conditions included rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and hypothyroidism.
The company screens only for treatable ailments and avoids those that are invariably fatal. (Why stress out patients with dire news or warnings that they can’t do anything about?) So for now, neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease are out. But, Chandler adds, the firm would consider testing for such illnesses “if there’s a way to slow down progression of the disease.”
My Biophysical250 results were limited in the sense that they reflected my health on the precise day at the precise time when my blood was drawn. Biochemical changes over time, though, reveal more about the state of a person’s health. But at the cost of a giant flat-screen plasma TV, the Biophysical250 is not exactly affordable, even if done every other year. Couldn’t the company knock off a few of the tests? I mean, did I really need to find out that I have no African sleeping sickness parasites, considering that I’ve never been to Africa? Or to know that I am not pregnant?