I have always been interested in learning more about my body and how to use data to improve my health. When I had the opportunity to try a whole-body MRI scan from Prenuvo, a diagnostics company focusing on the early detection of cancer and other diseases, I was intrigued by what I learned.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of your body by measuring and mapping how much water is in different tissues. What makes Prenuvo’s whole-body MRI scan unique is its ability to capture up to 10 times more images with a higher resolution than a standard MRI, which increases the accuracy of the screening.
Another advantage of having an MRI is that it does not use ionizing radiation, like X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends avoiding unnecessary exposure to radiation because of the risks, such as a higher possibility of developing cancer later in life.
A one-hour Prenuvo session can generate up to 2,000 images of your body that may reveal the early stages of cancer and other diseases, such as brain aneurysms. Another differentiator for the company is its app that allows you to see all of your MRI images in detail.
The Quantified Self Movement
Prenuvo is part of the quantified self movement that focuses on monitoring and collecting personal data to improve your health. The movement includes technology that monitors sleep, blood glucose levels, heart rate, exercise and other aspects of your daily life.
Prenuvo gives people ownership of their medical data, so they can take control of their health and take action. The comprehensive whole-body MRI scan checks for 362 conditions, such as tumors and aneurysms, in their early stages. Many cancers and other diseases do not cause symptoms until the advanced stages, so early detection can lead to faster monitoring and treatment that can save lives.
“Cancer is usually found at stage three, which is advanced and more difficult to treat. Prenuvo can detect cancer earlier at stage one,” says CEO of Prenuvo, Andrew Lacy.
Although using an MRI on healthy individuals is still controversial because some doctors feel it is not necessary, Prenuvo has seen the benefits of early detection in its patients.
“We had a patient from San Francisco who came to Vancouver for the TED Talks and had whole-body MRI scans for her entire family. We found an aneurysm on her mother’s scan, and she received treatment quickly,” says co-founder of Prenuvo, Dr. Raj Attariwala. “Two weeks later, the mother’s sister, who was never scanned, had a ruptured brain aneurysm that killed her. It could have been prevented with an MRI.”
Prenuvo scanned 60 people at the 2019 TED Talks conference in Vancouver and found three cases of cancer. This type of early detection allowed the patients to seek treatment faster.
Detecting Pancreatic Cancer Sooner
Most people who have pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at stage four and have a five-year survival rate of 1%. Usually, patients who are in this late-stage of cancer live about a year after diagnosis. However, pancreatic cancer may be cured if it is caught early.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins found that pancreatic cancer develops and spreads slowly. This means there is a bigger window for early diagnosis through screenings, such as a whole-body MRI.
“One of Raj’s friends, a 36-year-old mother of four, was diagnosed with stage four metastatic colon cancer. She died within a year. The tragedy inspired Raj to start the company and offer people a way to detect cancer sooner,” says Lacy.
The Future of the Quantified Self
As the healthcare system in the U.S. moves toward a value-based care model that emphasizes quality over quantity, preventative medicine is becoming more important. The new movement of active health surveillance through services such as whole-body MRIs is also looks to play a crucial role.
Modern medicine can learn about value-based care from the past. In ancient China, doctors would charge a monthly service fee to see their patients. It was an innovative business model at the time. When a patient became sick, they would stop paying the doctor. Doctors had an incentive to keep patients healthy all the time. Today’s healthcare system could benefit from a similar model that incorporates preventive screenings.
One of Prenuvo’s goals is to make active health surveillance affordable and accessible for everyone. The current whole-body MRI service costs about $3,000 and takes an hour, but Prenuvo wants to make changes.
“Our goal is to make this service affordable for everybody by charging $300 per scan. We also want each scan to take 15 minutes,” says Attariwala. “Everyone should have a whole-body MRI scan once a year.”
Knowing what is happening inside your body gives you greater control and peace of mind. It also creates the opportunity to monitor health problems actively and seek treatment sooner.
Thank you to Lana Bandoim for additional research and reporting in this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest.
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