Book Review: Experimental Man

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David Duncan is a journalist and Director of the Center for Life Science Policy at UC Berkeley.  He’s written a fascinating book called Experimental Man: What One Man’s Body Reveals about His Future, Your Health and Our Toxic World 

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about his foray into the world of the body, specifically the new technologies that allow us to test and assess our risks for disease and disorder.  Using himself as a subject, he submits to batteries of tests that examine his genes (for markers of disease), his blood (for toxins as well as naturally occuring molecules like cholesterol), his brain (for structural and functional attributes), and some other miscellaneous items (for example, he is one of the 25% of people who cannot taste bitterness).

With intriguing section titles like “Idyllic childhood in Kansas, except for the toxic waste dump” (which explores his high levels of PBDEs) and “Greed, gambling, and why my brain loves Dodgeball, the movie” (which examines his MRI and fMRI brain scans, the latter while performing some gambling tasks), the book is very readable and a great introduction to the technologies that may fundamentally alter the way medicine is practiced.

With their full consent, Duncan also includes family members in some of the genetic testing, looking for shared traits, and in particular, some information about his brother’s congenital bone disorder (osteogenesis imperfecta).

There is a website that interacts with the book (and can also stand alone) called The Experimental Man Project as well as a blog that provide updates to the book, which was published in 2009.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these sorts of technologies and how, for better or for worse, they will affect our quality (and quantity) of life in the future.

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