Proposed health care system would incorporate computer models of patients
By Ben Coxworth
July 26, 2011
The way things currently stand in the field of medicine, doctors often have to try out a number of treatments on any one patient, before (hopefully) finding one that works. This wastes both time and medications, and potentially endangers the patients, as they could have negative reactions to some drugs. In the future, however, all that experimenting may not be necessary. The pan-European IT Future of Medicine (ITFoM) project, a consortium of over 25 member organizations, is currently developing a system in which every person would have a computer model of themselves, that incorporated their own genome. Doctors could then run simulations with that model, to see how various courses of treatment would work on the actual person.
Needless to say, technology needs to advance before it becomes relatively easy to map individuals' genomes. That's why ITFoM is currently vying for EUR 1 billion (US$1.5 billion) in funding, from the European Future and Emerging Technologies flagship scheme. It has already received EUR 1.5 million (US$2.2 million) in preliminary funding. Once the 10-year project builds momentum and more organizations join, ITFoM's organizers are predicting that it could become one of the largest collaborative endeavors since the Apollo space program.
Besides genetic data, each person's computer model would incorporate physiological information such as allergies, past and current health issues, and congenital defects - some of the same things that are currently part of their health records. Not only would this allow physicians to virtually test different drugs on specific patients, but they could also asses how changes in things such as diet and exercise might affect them.
Great strides will have to be made in areas such as high-speed data acquisition and evaluation, dynamic storage and processing of that data into mathematical models, and the development of systems that can learn, predict and inform. The implications, however, could be huge.
"The greatest opportunities to improve outcomes in medicine seem likely to come from personalized medicine, the biological sciences are providing the insights required to support informed personalization, and advanced computational techniques are essential for making sense of the data that informs decision making," said Professor Norman Paton, of ITFoM member the University of Manchester. "This is a fantastic opportunity to bring together advances from these three rapidly developing areas to bring about a paradigm shift in medical practice."