Shaping the future of healthcare
Our current approach to delivering healthcare is not working. Every patient – and their disease – is unique, with many ‘one size fits all’ treatments benefiting only a minority. For example, current untargeted drugs are effective in around one-quarter of all cancer patients; three out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease and just over one-half of patients with diabetes. We need to radically change our approach to precision medicine.
When the Human Genome Project completed in 2003, the cost to generate one human genome sequence stood at some 54 million U.S. dollars. Twelve years later, the same procedure cost around one thousand dollars. Due to rapid advances in speed and cost of DNA sequencing and other similar technologies, there has been an explosion of data that is uncovering the exact molecular causes of disease. In 2003 only 1,474 genes were identified that had mutations that cause disease, while in 2015, 2,937 genes had been identified with mutations that cause diseases. In 2003, there were some 46 drugs labelled with biomarker information on the market. Twelve years later, the number of such drugs stood at 132.
But for the most common diseases, our genetic blueprint can only predict what might happen in the future – with the complex interactions between our genes, lifestyle and environmental factors determining our exact trajectories. So scientists are also using advanced imaging and ‘omics technologies, combined with digital biosensors and mobile fitness and wellness devices, to capture physiological and behavioural data at a large-scale. Combining and analysing these increasingly huge datasets with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies will provide incredible power to identify subtle, yet measurable, profiles associated with a disease.
Precision medicine offers unprecedented opportunities to use this ever-increasingly detailed information to prevent, diagnose and treat disease – improving health outcomes for individuals. Its successful delivery relies on several interconnected areas – the development of sophisticated tests that enable much earlier, more precise diagnosis of disease, a range of personalised interventions that can prevent or delay its onset, and a battery of new, molecularly targeted medicines that can treat an individual's condition more precisely with fewer side effects.
Did You Know?
Current untargeted drugs are ineffective in around three-quarters of all cancer patients.
In 2003, it cost $54 million to sequence one human genome. Twelve years later, it cost around $1,000.
In 2016, 28.3 million wearable devices were on the market but this will rise to ~190 million by 2022.
Making use of increasingly powerful, multi-dimensional datasets will come from integrating multiple types of ‘omics data and other biomarkers – leading to complex new tests that can make sense of multiple measurements to guide precision medicine.
For diseases like cancer, getting hold of samples for testing biomarkers can involve invasive surgical procedures. So developing non-invasive ‘liquid biopsy’ tests, based on body fluids such as blood or urine, are set to change how diseases are diagnosed and treated in the future.
Not only are they simpler and less-invasive for patients, they also give doctors the opportunity to get results more rapidly and regularly. Combined with new biosensor technologies, this will facilitate the simple, rapid analysis of tiny patient samples.
Biosensors and Interfaces
There is also a wealth of opportunities offered from integrating electronics with the human body which can sense changes in our biochemistry, through the development of innovative new biosensors and interfaces.
One well-known biosensor is already used for blood glucose testing by millions of diabetics around the world. However, although blood is often the gold-standard body fluid, samples can be painful to collect. Scientists are developing a new range of wearable sensors that can make meaningful measurements from other biological fluids - such as sweat, breath, saliva or eye fluids.
The study of biological interfaces is one of the most innovative and expanding areas of science and technology, as many medical devices and materials could be vastly improved if their surfaces could be modified to be more biocompatible with living tissues. This challenge involves rethinking the hard, rigid forms that exist today into soft, biocompatible designs that allow seamless, long-term integration with the soft tissues and surfaces of biological systems.
Combining the capabilities of biosensors and interfaces within integrated devices will open new ways to assess an individual’s physiological health status - offering huge potential for continuous, non-invasive self-monitoring of biomarkers for diseases.
The boom in fitness and wellness devices, such as fitness bands and smartwatches, provides access to an information base with huge opportunities for expansion to encompass disease monitoring or diagnosis. A staggering 28.3 million wearable devices made it to the market in 2016 and this is forecasted to rise to 189.9 million by 2022.
Integrating consumer digital technologies with data collected from new biosensors will enable scientists to collect and track real-time physiological and behavioural data at scale. Analysing these huge datasets with the help of AI and machine learning will lead to new insights that can make accurate diagnoses about a person’s current and future health - and recommend personalised interventions that will prevent or delay the onset of disease.
 Genomics examines a person’s DNA blueprint; metabolomics involves looks at small molecules (metabolites); proteomics - explores protein molecules; and transcriptomics examines gene activity.
 Biosensors are analytical devices used for detecting a chemical, which combines a biologically derived material with a detector.
 Biointerfaces are where synthetic materials and biological systems interact with each other
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