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How tech is enabling a personalized path to health and well-being

Thanks to AI and advanced data collection, medical researchers are discovering innovative new approaches to preventing disease

How tech is enabling a personalized path to health and well-being

For those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a neurologic disorder characterized by progressive memory loss, the search for a successful treatment has been discouraging. However, one approach has shown promise. Exemplified in the FINGER study, it evaluated lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, and other means of prevention as a way to stave off dementias such as Alzheimer’s. 

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For most chronic diseases, the best approach is to intervene early and ideally prevent them from beginning in the first place. Unfortunately, there’s no universal approach to prevention. “You have to have enough information about a person,” says Dr. Nathan Price, CEO of Onegevity, one of two vertically integrated brands under Thorne HealthTech, a leader in developing innovative solutions for a personalized approach to health and well-being. “There’s a whole ecosystem that has to be built around understanding health—and not just studying disease. This is what we call scientific wellness.” This includes having models of the body, the right data, and, Price adds, “the right paradigm of understanding health first. It is the bedrock of everything we do.”

Thorne HealthTech builds this ecosystem by combining their sub-brands; Thorne offers a variety of health tests consumers can take to gain a better understanding of their health and couples them with product solutions to improve it, while Onegevity powers those health tests and associated recommendations by leveraging their proprietary AI. These tests measure everything from sleep hormones to “biological age.” Perhaps the most encompassing test assesses a customer’s gut microbiome, the health implications of which span the brain, heart, and immune system. For those working at Thorne HealthTech, it’s also instrumental in the knowledge of healthy aging.

GUT CHECK TIME

Full of microbes—microscopic organisms that live in everyone’s gut—the gut microbiome helps to metabolize food and drugs as they pass through the body. A healthy gut microbiome can help provide the body with beneficial nutrients and remove detrimental elements. Thorne HealthTech developed its Gut Health test with Onegevity to give consumers more insight into their own gut microbiomes. This helps them figure out how to not only “optimize their health,” Price says, but also get rid of or ameliorate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other problems that begin in the gut, which the Thorne HealthTech team demonstrated in a 2020 study.

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“About 30% of the U.S. population has some sort of gut health problem,” says Paul Jacobson, CEO of Thorne HealthTech, adding that data has shown more personalized products “deal with these problems much better than a one-size-fits-all drug approach.”

This tracks with the way the gut microbiome evolves throughout a person’s lifetime. In his scientific work, Price has observed that people’s microbiomes—if they stay healthy—become increasingly unique over time. “The more you continue on a healthy journey, the more your microbiome looks less like anyone else’s,” he says. However, there are still commonalities in the metabolic functions that are carried out by your microbiome through the course of healthy aging.

Thorne HealthTech has studied the variability of different people’s gut microbiomes through clinical trials, one of which included people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. “We were able to resolve symptoms for a large fraction of those individuals with personalized approaches, and most everyone improved significantly,” he says.

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BUILDING A BIOLOGICAL DATABASE

How do you take information about someone’s gut microbiome and turn it into wellness recommendations? At Thorne HealthTech, it comes down to having an ever-growing body of data at researchers’ and product developers’ disposal, collected from the company’s continued testing. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning on its growing biological database, capabilities brought to the company by Onegevity’s health intelligence platform, Thorne HealthTech can offer uniquely tailored recommendations and products to consumers.

“Consumers are becoming smarter and more research-driven,” Jacobson says. With the wealth of information available on the internet, simply taking doctors at their word is no longer enough for many patients. They want quantifiable evidence for following the treatment a health professional might prescribe. This extends to prescription drugs, which, though clinically proven to address a certain illness or condition, may come with some unpleasant side effects. With its biological database and use of AI, Thorne HealthTech can “screen” the molecules in prescription drugs “against the chemical structures of 400,000 available natural products,” Price says. “What that means is you can look for analogs in the natural space to match known drugs that might hit a certain target … that hits it in a softer way.”

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The trade-off of increased safety to hitting the target more softly can be attractive for prevention. A focus on precision health—in contrast to precision medicine focused on late-stage disease—necessitates solutions that are safe and able to enhance health for prolonged periods of time.  

PERSONALIZED TREATMENT

In the end, it all comes back to the gut. “One of the important things to understand about the microbiome is that it applies to all of your health,” Jacobson says. For example, having the wrong kind of bacteria in your gut can convert chemicals that would otherwise be good for you into precursors of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). That’s why personalizing treatments is so important to Thorne HealthTech: A preventive treatment for one person could put another’s health in jeopardy.

Research on the gut microbiome is an area where Thorne HealthTech plans to keep its focus moving forward. When it comes to brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, for instance, the role of the gut microbiome isn’t totally clear. But last year, Price published a paper that showed the same bile acids made in the microbiome appear in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. That doesn’t necessarily mean these acids come from the microbiome, but “we were unable to explain their presence in a different way,” Price says.

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Thorne HealthTech is working on launching a brain health program next year, focusing on prevention and a scientific wellness approach of first modeling how the brain maintains its health across life. It also plans to put its health AI platform into a software product that can deliver mass amounts of health information to the likes of doctors and fitness chains—all in the name of prevention as the means to long, healthy lives for consumers.

“We’re trying to bring the same level of scientific rigor to the preventive health space as biotech and pharma have to disease,” Jacobson says. “We’re creating a brand-new health category.”

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