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Originally published May 6, 2010 at 10:09 PM | Page modified May 6, 2010 at 10:09 PM

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Nicole Brodeur

Well, that's a brilliant idea

Sometime in the next 10 years or so, we'll each be seen as a walking, breathing collection of so-called "data points." Clinicians will be able to use that data to detect our risk for disease — Alzheimer's, cancer — then set out a plan to prevent it. It sounds like X-ray glasses. With scrubs.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sometime in the next 10 years or so, we'll each be seen as a walking, breathing collection of so-called "data points."

Clinicians will be able to use that data to detect our risk for disease — Alzheimer's, cancer — then set out a plan to prevent it.

It sounds like X-ray glasses. With scrubs.

But to Leroy Hood, it's something he calls P4 medicine: predictive, personalized, preventive and participatory. And he is the pioneer behind it.

Hood, 71, is also the creator of the automated DNA sequencer, and the co-founder and president of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle.

His decades in a white lab coat have led to many nights in a tuxedo. He's won the 2003 Lemelson-MIT Prize for helping decode the genome, and the 2002 Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology, among others.

On Thursday, Hood was named the winner of the 2010 Kistler Prize, a $100,000 doozy given by the Bellevue-based Foundation for the Future. The prize honors "original work that significantly increases knowledge and understanding of the relationship between the human genome and society."

"It never gets old," Hood said of the award Thursday. "All of us like to be validated."

The prize money doesn't hurt, either. As he has in the past, Hood will donate it to the ISB, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

We're surrounded by people like Hood. Brilliant, driven science geeks who went on to find ways to save our lives, or at least make them last a little longer.

It's tough work in America, no matter how many awards you win or how smart you are. For while Hood and his colleagues labor in the labs, the great minds at Kentucky Fried Chicken are coming up with heart stoppers like the "Double Down" sandwich.

How to get people to invest in their own wellness? You can give them a billion "data points," but there's no dearth of candidates for "The Biggest Loser."

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"I am a determined optimist," Hood said. "I always have the cup half-filled."

Hood plans on taking the P4 parameters into schools, so students understand the implications of their actions. And he hopes to develop modules that will help people educate themselves about wellness. Games, maybe a TV show like "CSI." The possibilities are endless.

"We need to show that what we do is potentially transformational for people."

Hood is a lifelong overachiever. In high school, he played the oboe — not easy, since it's a dual-reeded thing. He won a medal at the same debate competition where he met his wife. He was the quarterback on the football team.

He grew up in a Montana family that let him run wild, but also created "a sense of expectation."

I would think those expectations have been met by now, no? I read to him the news release from the Foundation for the Future, announcing his award.

"Hood's discoveries have permanently changed the course of biology and revolutionized the understanding of genetics, life and human health."

For a moment, the brilliant scientist seemed stumped.

"I don't know what it means," he said. "But it sounds good."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

It's all "Star Wars" to her.


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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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