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Star Trek Tricorder

Rethinking health

By | Healthcare, Technology | No Comments

For most of the 20th century, humans have been passive consumers. Then something great happend: with the advent of personal computers, we slowly embarked on a race for individual expression, igniting the democratisation of innovation.


The PC, and more recently the Internet, were such great paradigm shifts, that social and educational barriers were broken and old hierarchies overturned. In its early days, computing was exclusive to governmental institutions and corporations, limiting creativity and development. That all changed dramatically when we reinvented its purpose.

Nowadays we are witnessing derivations of this model taking shape in other industries. As with any technology, Moore’s law is ever-present when it comes to the medical field.

Since the Humane Genome Project wrapped up, nine years ago, you may be aware that the cost to sequence a human genome is dropping, but you probably have no idea how fast that price is coming down. Gene sequencing has gotten faster and cheaper at a pace rivaling the computer industry.

 

Imagine a world where you have your own medical testing lab on you at most times. Does it sound like something out of Star Trek? Well, it is not that far away. In fact, I am sure a lot of you are already tracking your vitals through apps and gadgets, such as Runtastic or Jawbone’s Up. As applications like this evolve, we are steadily creating our own health databases, just like we have done for our media or social interactions. For example, IBM’s Watson made the move from answering trivia questions to making medical diagnoses in Toronto’s General Hospital. Now picture having a personal Watson with access to your medical history and current development. Not SF, more like just around the corner.

Our personal genome is one of the crucial pieces of information that can make a difference in this context, because being connected to such analytical systems, we will have the ability to actively compare and single out various causes of conditions.

Recently, UK based company Oxford Nanopore made important steps in exactly this direction by creating a disposable DNA sequencer that’s the size of a thumb drive, and powered by a USB port. The MinION can read more than 150 million base pairs in up to 6 hours. While larger human chromosomes contain up to 250 million base pairs, that’s a very impressive step towards the democratization of low cost sequencing (under 1.000 $). Watch the founder of the X Prize, Peter Diamantis, reference a series of disruptive technological developments and advocating technological democratization at TEDMED:

Although there is much to be discussed on the issue of PH (personalized healthcare) I’d like to leave you with two questions:

– how will our future diagnostic processes and overall healthcare look like going down the road of personalization?
– what other areas would this model work on?