The firm has basically miniaturized the standard blood tests, substituting the microliter wells with tinier polystyrene beads, each about half the size of a red blood cell. Each sphere is coated with a particular antibody. 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 last year.
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 osteo-arthritic. 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. It's something I'll check with my physician.
And therein lies a great strength of Biophysical250: it can uncover a pre-symptomatic, 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 The firm reports that in an unpublished study of 120 clients, 15 turned out to have major health risks and another 27 indicated moderate risks; none showed outward signs of disease.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. 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 reflect my health on January 10, 2006, at 9:30 A.M., 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?
Chandler says that plucking out a few of the beads would not be cost-effective, although perhaps a few dozen biomarkers might be enough to catch the most common afflictions and permit a less expensive assessment. He would like data from 10,000 clients before pruning the number of biomarkers. (He expects about 1,500 customers this year.) The company may head in the other direction and institute a Biophysical300 as research uncovers more biomarkers. I'd certainly be game for it if the price came down--and as long as it does not need more than two tablespoons of blood.�
This article was originally published with the title The Ultimate Blood Test.