by Kevin Cyr | Dare to Discover. M.D. in progress at Stanford | B.S. Vanderbilt Engineering | I’m interested in the future of health and society.

By 2025, the cost to sequence, store, and study an entire human genome will be $1. At this price point, genetic information will become commonplace within the healthcare sector. Just as you get your blood drawn, so too will your genome be sequenced. But, genetics is not the only field that will see widespread adoption in healthcare.

Developments in wearable health trackers, artificial intelligence, and telehealth are all promising to advance personalized medicine. Personalized medicine focuses on ways to improve how individual patients get and stay healthy. In pursuit of this goal, vast amounts of personal health data are currently being collected and leveraged to treat and manage patients. These technologies will radically alter the healthcare sector. It is up to us, the future leaders in healthcare, to anticipate how these technologies will shape the future and respond to their impact.

Source: Wetterstand, K.A. 2016. DNA Sequencing Costs: Data from the NHGRI Genome Sequencing Program (GSP).


New technologies will bring personalized medicine to reality

Personalized, or precision, medicine promises to radically alter the healthcare sector by introducing individualized treatments of disease. The overarching goal of personalized medicine is to recognize individual variability and better connect healthcare treatment with that individual variability. Fundamental to the advancement of personalized medicine is the progress of enabling technologies. Improvements in genetic sequencing are enabling patient health data to be collected and analyzed at unparalleled magnitudes. By analyzing the trends in genetic sequencing, we can project that the cost to sequence a full human genome will drop from approximately $1,000 today to less than $1 by 2025. Genetic information may quickly reach a level of commoditization, similar to laboratory based blood tests, where a major element of routine clinical workup is to have your whole genome sequenced.

Genetic information, however, is not prone to daily changes like blood. A patient can carry their genetic information around for life. Instead of simply collecting the information, new advances will seek to integrate genetic information with other data to create new insights. One can think of genetic sequencing as mining for raw iron ore. By integrating the information and connecting with other data sources, we process that raw iron into steel. Discovering the processes that help turn raw genetic information into useful insights will be a key driver towards the full realization of personalized medicine.

New technologies can improve physician-patient relationships

Technology is often viewed as a force that distances healthcare providers from the patients they treat. However, personalized medicine has a unique opportunity to resolve this dilemma and enable even better connections between patients and providers.

We can seek to leverage new advances in technology to generate personalized information that recognizes individuals for their differences. From these insights, we can develop custom-tailored treatment plans that fit the specific needs of an individual. Instead of using technology further distance ourselves from patients, we can use it close the gap and empower the patient-provider relationship. New technologies can ensure that the person is the most important part of personalized medicine.

For example, before a patient with Type I diabetes comes into the office, a physician might analyze their biometric readings from a wearable insulin pump. Overlaying this information with data from the genome and fitness tracking data, the physician can begin to synthesize a full-picture of the patient. When the patient visits the office, the physician no longer needs to waste time collecting and logging this information. Instead, the physician can turn away from the screen and focus on the patient and their needs. Physicians can finally focus on the patient that is present instead of the data that is presented.

The challenges ahead for personalized medicine will be concerned with connecting and integrating all this newfound information. The questions we need to answer will be; How can we ensure patients aren’t seen as numbers? How can we connect physicians to the real needs of their patients? How can reduce the widening gap in health disparities?

While the future is in many ways uncertain, there is one sure thing. The healthcare of today will not be the same as the healthcare of tomorrow: it will once again be built around the individual.

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