I confess, I had a moment of weakness. Just after I slipped into the surprisingly tailored scrub set provided in the private dressing room at the new Prenuvo clinic in Manhattan, I thought, These are cute. There’s a mirror. Should I take a selfie? Remembering that I was about to slide into the maw of a very serious MRI machine, I resisted. But still, what madness was this? I’ve never had an impulse to Instagram a mammogram.
In my defense, everybody else is doing it. Among those who have stepped into Prenuvo’s full-body MRI and posted about it: celebrity Harvard longevity scientist David Sinclair, self-proclaimed “father of biohacking” Dave Asprey, TV host Maria Menounos (who credited the scan with detecting her stage 2 pancreatic cancer), Paris Hilton, Miranda Kerr, and Kyle MacLachlan. (Cindy Crawford and iPhone co-creator Tony Fadell are investors.) Prenuvo’s viral ubiquity can be credited partly to the company’s decision to offer free scans to influencers and partly to the indisputable power of Kim Kardashian, who shared a photo of herself on Instagram, dressed in those fetching scrubs, perched on the edge of what she captioned “this life-saving machine.” She was promptly lambasted for being tone-deaf, and her critics weren’t entirely wrong. Who among Kardashian’s followers can afford to get a $2,500 medical scan, not covered by insurance, just for the heck of it?
But such are the times in which we live. We are fixated on fixing everything—fast—and money is no object. There is no wrinkle that a vial of neurotoxin can’t erase, no pocket of flab that CoolSculpting can’t freeze away, no bikini body that Ozempic can’t rapidly manifest. A pricey MRI is the latest Silicon Valley–driven dream: that we can buy our way out of anything, even death. Or, if not the grand finale itself, at least out of infirmity, disease, old age. It is the pinnacle (so far) of the quantified health movement—the obsession with tracking everything from REM sleep to body temperature to changes in the cellular genome. You can biohack all you want, but at some point you’ll want to lift the hood, as it were, and see if by optimizing all those data points you’ve kept the engine pristine.
Prenuvo, for the uninitiated, is a boutique MRI service co-founded by entrepreneur Andrew Lacy and radiologist Rajpaul Attariwala. Its first location opened in Vancouver in 2019, followed by outposts in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, and there are now nine clinics across North America. The custom-built machines are calibrated to detect more than 500 conditions, including, most commonly, stage 1 tumors and aneurysms. Lest you imagine a claustrophobia-inducing cylinder, think again. The spacious device looks like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and although it emits a cacophony of clangs and bangs while it photographs your insides, you are required to do nothing but relax and watch your choice of Netflix programs on an eye-level screen. Every once in a while you are instructed to hold your breath; when you’re done, there’s a snack bar with coconut water and fancy granola.
“We wanted it to feel welcoming,” Lacy says. “The philosophy of the company is to offer an alternative to our reactive healthcare system, where you go in only when something is wrong. We’re imagining a transformed approach, where you come in and get a scan every year or two, just like getting your car checked.”
Naysayers contend that the scans result in too many anxiety-inducing false positives, or “incidentalomas.” The American College of Radiology has issued a statement against elective full-body MRIs, but longevity experts, including Outlive author Peter Attia (who praised Prenuvo on the nerd-preferred Huberman Lab podcast) and Dr. Poonam Desai, who calls the scans “an important step forward for early detection,” believe that those who can afford them should do them. If you watch a few of the tearjerking videos on YouTube from those whose Prenuvo scans detected what could have been terminal illnesses and decide to pony up, you may be doing some good for the future. Lacy says that the aim is for Prenuvo scans to someday be covered by insurance, and that today’s preventive care pioneers are effectively investing in advancements that will bring down costs. “If we can shift the healthcare system toward a more proactive model, that will save lives and money,” he says.
My Prenuvo scan results were ready for me to view in less than a week. I had no incidentalomas, just a few (to me, at least) interesting discoveries. I have white spots on my brain, not uncommon in people over the age of 30, that have a slight correlation to migraine headaches, which I do suffer from. There is evidence of early arthritis in my upper spine, in exactly the spot that I have felt heretofore inexplicable pain (a common cause, the Prenuvo app informs me, is looking down too frequently—ie, tech neck. Guilty as charged). There were a few other very minor findings, but nothing to worry about. As someone who comes from a family in which cancer doesn’t so much run as gallop, I found these results profoundly reassuring. When you sign up for the scan, you can’t help but fear what it might find—but in the end, I would always rather know what I don’t know.
“The most likely outcome that people get,” Lacy says, “is peace of mind.” Maybe an all-clear Prenuvo scan—something simultaneously pricey and priceless—is worth posting about after all.
A version of this story appears in an upcoming issue of Town & Country.