There’s a quiet revolution taking place in medical research, and it only depends upon combining familiar, existing technologies in just the right way.
The Evolution of Personalized Medicine
Personalized medicine is an emergent branch of health care that treats the individual patient as a high-resolution source of data. By collecting a wide spectrum of information on the individual — their lifestyle, heritage, medical history, genetic information, and beyond — professionals working in this field can compare it to data on similar individuals who faced similar medical problems. The thinking goes: what worked well for those patients will likely work for this one.
Personalized medicine represents a paradigm shift from the “one size fits all” approach that’s all too common in health care today, granting patients quicker access to medical treatments that yield them more favorable results. We live at a time rife with talk of driverless cars, space exploration, and technologically enabled daily convenience. Personalized medicine harnesses the best of this technology to move beyond entertaining ourselves with virtual reality headsets. It restores our health when we are sick.
Here are the four main technology trends driving personalized medicine today.
Improved Medical Technology Makes It Easier to Spot Genetic Mutations
We’ve come a long way in genetic medicine. The scope was highly limited five or six years ago, but technology inevitability improves over time. For consumers, this usually means smaller phones and faster computers. For medical professionals, it means newer and better tools for saving lives.
The stuff of science fiction is becoming real, and this is especially exciting for medical applications. Nowadays, it’s not especially complicated to give a fruit fly an exact copy of a patient’s cancer tumor, then run drug screenings on the fly to observe the results. What works on the fly will work on the human patient, and when you do this at scale — we’ve used up to 400,000 fruit flies at once — you get compelling results far more quickly than an individual oncologist consulting a research journal.
Medical technology might not improve as affordably as its counterparts on the consumer tech side, but it still improves nonetheless. The genetic medicine methodologies that enable personalized medicine were highly complex not all that long ago, but the times have thankfully changed — what was once highly complicated is now an everyday thing in a medical lab.
Big Data Technology Lets Us Capture and Manage Vast Stores of Information
A popular buzzword from the business sphere, big data broadly refers to a set of techniques for extracting, analyzing, and interacting with datasets far too large for people to handle. Imagine an Excel spreadsheet so big and packed with data that it crashes your personal computer; that’s why companies use specialized tools to manage it.
In the manufacturing industry, for example, big data methodologies reduce production line failures and optimizes supply chain management for near-zero downtime. In the media world, they’re instrumental in targeting content and advertising to people in the right place at the right time, maximizing the appeal of a certain article or promotion.
In medicine, big data is about taking advantage of all the research and treatments that have come before your own consultation. Doctors and researchers get to lean on previous results to tweak their experiment (or patient treatment) based on historic information.
Personalized medicine represents a paradigm shift from the “one size fits all” approach that’s all too common in healthcare today, granting patients quicker access to medical treatments that yield them more favorable results.
Artificial Intelligence Technology Will Help Us Make Sense of All That Data
If big data is the open ocean, then AI is our world-class yacht for navigating it. AI is proliferating rapidly across consumer and enterprise technologies, and it’s only going to continue to improve. From the voice-activated virtual assistant that lives in your smartphone today to the driverless car systems of the near future, all of it depends on artificially intelligent software to add new ease and convenience to our lives.
Humans tend to fall miraculously short when it comes time to organize mathematical or scientific data into a clean pattern. But this is exactly the arena in which AI excels. As the figurative beating heart of AI is raw mathematics, this makes it a next-class tool for science-based medical research. Not only do most major pharmaceutical companies boast an AI research arm, but that research is leading the way to new medicines.
Consider the fact that a research team in Australia is on its way to releasing the first medical treatment designed top-to-bottom by an AI system.1 It’s a flu vaccine, and preliminary animal testing shows it to be highly effective.
Personalization Technologies Are All The Rage Lately
People tend to like a product or service a little bit more when they know that product or service has been tailored to them specifically. That’s why businesses have started leaning on technology to add new layers of personalization to what they do.
Your Facebook newsfeed, for example, is driven by an algorithm that serves up content based on the friends it thinks you want to interact with and the content it thinks you want to consume. This personalized approach to social media significantly drove engagement on the site.
Netflix is another standout example, for its world-famous recommendation algorithm. It’s rather trivial for the platform to maintain a record of all the content it distributes on a user-by-user basis, so it uses that data to suggest what a user might want to watch next. The company even sponsored a $1 million “Netflix Prize,” awarding the money to whichever team could increase the accuracy of its recommendation engine by 10% or more.
In the medical realm, personalization means that a treatment is conceived from the ground-up for the individual patient. It’s bespoke medicine that accounts for more individualized details and medical history than any textbook could.
It’s important to emphasize that personalized medicine is real and practical today. It’s already proven to be an effective mechanism for beating diseases that had previously stumped medical teams. As technology and medical research continue to advance (they always do), there’s no telling how simultaneously accessible and powerful personalized medicine can become.
Masige, Haron. “Australian Researchers Have Just Released the World’s First AI-Developed Vaccine.” Business Insider. 13 Jul. 2019. Web.