People with Big Ideas

credit: Ethan Pines for Forbes

credit: Ethan Pines for Forbes

If you follow my posts, you probably know that I love stories about people who have really big ideas. In some way, each of these adventurers–in art, technology, medicine, philanthropy, etc.–have been unwilling to accept “the way it’s always been done” and ready to take risks in the name of discovery.

The cover article of Forbes (February 28, 2017) is about one such person: Craig Venter. “How to Cheat Death” introduces Venter’s latest brainstorm, a “$25,000 executive physical, branded the Health Nucleus.” Venter, as you may recall, was the co-founder of Celera Genomics, which took on the U.S. government in a race to map the human genome. Competitive and, according to some of his critics, arrogant, Venter has continued his foray into medical knowledge, often using himself as a guinea pig.

Health Nucleus, as Venter explains in the article, is based in part on his experiences as a hospital corpsman. “In Vietnam, I used to do autopsies on 18-to-22-year-olds, and a lot of them had cardiovascular disease,” Venter says. Fast forward 45 years or so and his new firm, Human Longevity, is analyzing the DNA of participants in clinical trials and finding “genetic variations that can be found in young people but not older ones–meaning the young folks had genes incompatible with surviving into old age.”

The pricey Health Nucleus exam uses a number of screening procedures to detect irregularities in the bodies of healthy people–and, investors hope, move people toward treatment before small problems get to be big ones.

The road is not easy. Venter and Health Nucleus have many vocal critics, including scientists who object to the blatant for-profit focus of his approach and physicians who are concerned with the many false positives generated by such testing.

But, whatever happens with Health Nucleus, Craig Venter is unafraid to run with a new idea and, to me, that’s inspiring.