David Ewing Duncan, a biotech writer and correspondent for public radio’s “Biotech Nation” program, took on another role for his seventh book – human guinea pig. Duncan, who lives in San Francisco, tested himself for everything from genetic defects to toxins. Duncan, who is scheduled to speak at Harvard Medical School on April 9, sat down with Globe reporter Todd Wallack to talk about his new book “Experimental Man” and the biotechnology industry.
How many tests did you get for your book?
Probably close to 200. I had multiple genetic tests – not a full genome scan, though that is in the workings right now. Three-hundred and twenty chemicals inside of my body were tested. Twenty-two hours in the MRI. Several body scans.
How much do those tests normally cost?
A minimum of $150,000. And if and when I get my genome scanned that could be as much as $350,000, depending on how expensive it is to get my genome scanned at the time. The prices are going down all the time.
Did you volunteer for clinical trials in college to make extra money?
No, I actually had very little interest in getting myself tested personally. This was done as a writer trying to understand this brave new world of medical testing. I come from a very healthy family. I would be in the category of people who like to be healthy, but don’t worry about their health.
Any results surprise you?
The chemical toxins were a bit frightening that they were even in me. I am pretty average or slightly above average for most of the chemicals, except for a couple, (such as) flame retardants. I have 12 times the national mean. Apparently, that may have come from all the time I spent in airplanes, which are drenched in flame retardants. That makes me pause, although there is no evidence that even at those levels it causes me any harm.
Did any tests prompt you to change your behavior?
It’s all pretty new science. I did get some results. Turns out that I have a pretty high risk for a heart attack. If I gain a pound a year, I have a 70 percent chance of a heart attack in 20 years. If I stay at a stable weight, I have a 2 percent chance.
Did you change your diet?
I saw a nutritionist. I thought I had a healthy diet, but I have a healthier one now. I lost 10 pounds. Mostly, I reduced some hidden sugars.
What do you think of the boom in personal genetic testing companies?
I find it fascinating. I think it is important that it is being discussed in a consumer context, but I don’t think much of the information is ready for individuals. The science simply isn’t there. I think people have to be very careful. I got three different results from three different websites – high, medium, and low risk factor for heart attack. If you are comparison shopping there, that’s a little confusing.