The observable examined

The dawn of “omics”

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I attended a day long workshop at Stanford a couple a weeks ago. The topic  – Emerging Medical Computing: Healthcare Up-Close and Personalized  (14th Annual NFIC Conference June 16th at Stanford University, CA).

The workshop was about “..The intersection of computers with medical data is creating a form of direct and individualized diagnosis and treatment that transform health care to truly being up close and personalized medicine……..

Starting with computer based individual medical modeling based on genetics and biometrics, the conference will move on to cover personalized sensors in monitoring, diagnosis, treatment, and prosthetics….”

I will focus on one of the speakers, Michael Snyder. He spoke on “Adventures in Personal Omics”.  Our health is determined by a combination of our genome and exposure to the environment (epigenetics).  Given this, genome sequencing or genomics, is extremely valuable in understanding and treating human diseases (eg., cancer). Medicine as practiced today treats the average. Personalized genomic sequencing affords us the opportunity to examine human variability in the genetic makeup leading to nuanced understanding of disease risk at the personal level. DNA sequencing seems to be loosely following Moore’s law in that prices have been dropping ~10x in 15 months. Current average cost is about $3.5K, but $1K options are also round the corner. Personalized medicine, allows risk prediction, diagnoses, monitoring and treatment,as well as understanding disease state at an individual level. This is indeed revolutionary. In Snyder’s lab, they are able to produce a personal “omic” profile or POP. In fact, Snyder has been his own subject and has been monitoring his POP over the past 27 months and learned a tremendous deal. He was able to predict his diabetes risk from his POP (eventually he contracted it but was able to manage it). You can read this fascinating story here. Of course, significant challenges remain in translating this to everyday medical practice, because the clinical interpretation component- extracting useful information-  is still very high (~$30K).

There is yet another trend in the realm of personalized health, metaphorically called the “quantified self”.  The economist has a nice overview article – Counting every moment .  These efforts are directed more at the macro indicators of personal health (eg., height,weight, food intake, sleeping etc.,).

It gets even more interesting. Matt Ridley wrote a piece in the WSJ on the microbial ecosystem that is very essential for our functioning. He writes “… the startling statistic that there are at least 10 times as many bacterial cells (belonging to up to 1,000 species) in your gut as there are human cells in your entire body: that “you” are actually an entire microbial zoo as well as a person. You are 90% microbes by cell count, though not by volume—a handy reminder of just how small bacteria are.” These microbes make up between two to five pounds of your body weight!  Just like Snyder, Larry Smarr, an astrophysicist turned computer scientist, is meticulously charting his microbial makeup and has discovered fascinating facts about his body and explanations for his illness, even educating the doctors that were treating him, in the process. You can read all about this in the Atlantic article – Measured Man.

I could’nt help wondering that all of these efforts are bringing on a whole new meaning to the Socratic quote “A life unexamined is not worth living”.


Written by asterix98

July 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm

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