Human Longevity, Inc. works to understand one’s risk for disease at La Jolla genome-research facility

BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT:

Right now, while you’re going about your daily business, a team of intrepid and forward-thinking scientists in La Jolla is hard at work, in search of ways to make your life healthier … and longer.

Human Longevity, Inc. is a genomics-technology company with more than 300 employees. In just two years, HLI has sequenced over 30,000 human genomes (full sets of chromosomes) and is today doing so at the rate of one every 15 minutes.

A distinguished scientist, Dr. J. Craig Venter, is HLI’s co-founder along with Dr. Robert Hariri and Dr. Peter H. Diamandis. “I started HLI with the goal of learning how to interpret the human genome so we can understand people’s risk for disease and have the ability to do prevention and early treatment,” he said.

In addition to the ongoing research, HLI operates a clinical health facility called the Health Nucleus in the University Towne Center area. Venter says it offers, at a cost of about $25,000, “the most comprehensive health physical anybody can get. We sequence the entire genome. We sequence the microbiome. We measure several thousand chemicals in the bloodstream and we do quantitative brain MRI imagining. We scan for bone density, we do 4D echocardiograms. We measure everything that can be measured in an eight-hour day. We’re trying to use the genome to identify the risk, and then assess whether that risk is real or not.”

The benefit of such a comprehensive physical, Venter says, is undeniable. “We can predict up to 20 years in advance whether you’re likely to get Alzheimer’s symptoms or not, for example. We can tell you whether you have cancer or not and your risk of getting cancer in the future.”

In short: “We’re trying to change the definition of health.”

For the time being, the health insurance industry is not on board. “We hope that in the future third-party payers will recognize the value of this. There are some life insurance companies that are starting to pay for it,” Venter says. “Your life insurance company wants you to live a long time.”

As for the medical community? “This is all very new,” Venter says. “The traditional medical community says there’s no reason to screen healthy people. I would say you don’t know they’re healthy until you screen them. Traditional medicine is reactive. You wait until people have symptoms. They go to their physicians with their symptoms, then they try to solve them.”

But Venter, who is also founder and CEO of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a genomics-research organization, can see a future beyond what he calls the “tough revolution” he and his colleagues are trying to effect.

“I would love to see this proactive, genome-based, predictive and preventative medicine become a much larger part of health care. What we’re doing would be expanded substantially and would be the standard of care.”

HLI’s research efforts fuel his hope. “With our database now of over 30,000 genomes with all this information, we are making amazing discoveries every single day that make the interpretations more valuable, more accurate, more predictive.

“Our goal is not just to find the ‘Ponce de Leon’ gene. Our goal is to increase the healthy life span.”

— Human Longevity, Inc. is at 4570 Executive Drive, La Jolla. (858) 249-7500. humanlongevity.com

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