Today, our national healthcare systems face a string of challenges. Between ageing populations, drug-resistant microbes, and the threat of COVID-19, health services are increasingly stretched, with hospitals in US states such as Mississippi on the verge of collapse.
Indeed, operating under tight budgetary restrictions, Democrats in Washington, DC are currently debating whether to offer increased healthcare benefits to older Americans, or to extend coverage to more disadvantaged working people, a decision that leaves very few at ease.
Under these conditions, healthcare practitioners are eagerly turning to new and creative technologies to help develop breakthrough treatments, improve diagnosis and even prevent people from getting unwell in the first place.
New technologies available include those that use artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, or so-called internet of things (IoT) connectivity to achieve a host of pioneering developments, from detecting coronary artery disease from the sound of someone's voice, to informing breast cancer patients in real time if their chemotherapy is working.
'Technology every day is playing a more important role in preventing and even diagnosing illness,' said Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the US Consumer Technology Association. 'We are just beginning this journey of revolutionizing health care and reducing trips to the doctor.'
In particular, AI-based tools are set to spearhead the development of breakthrough treatments for disease by identifying relationships and patterns in vast amounts of information about patients, treatments, and human biology. This is a task that has hitherto been beyond our grasp.
But the Holy Grail in healthcare has long been personalized medicine, or what is now termed 'precision medicine'. At the heart of this concept is the understanding that we all have different biological make-ups and operate in different environments, meaning a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnostics and treatment is long out of date.
For years, getting to the level of precision required was not possible. But what has changed is our understanding of the human genome, which was first sequenced in 2003.
Now, two decades on, genomic science is sufficiently advanced that sequencing an individual genome can cost as little as $100 and can be done within a week.
Offering a deeper understanding of human biology, cheap, real-time gene sequencing facilitates a tailored approach to healthcare that can improve everything from cancer treatment to environmental modelling to disease surveillance.
Indeed, a world leading genomics company, BGI Group, is working to revolutionize cancer treatment by utilizing the next generation DNBSEQâ¢ NGS technology platform to provide whole genome sequencing faster and at a lower cost than other platforms.
The technology works by testing a small saliva or blood sample to identify if the individual carries any of the 79 gene mutations associated with 24 different types of hereditary cancer. This means that in one simple test, all gene mutations, deletions, insertions, duplications, and rearrangements can be detected.
With access to cutting-edge genetic sequencing, scientists can better understand the genetics of cancer, which will serve to open new avenues for understanding patient response to treatment and for developing new targeted therapies.
These steps are essential for making precision medicine a reality. Indeed, rather than only using traditional medicine to fight disease, advances in genomics will allow us to develop personalized, tailored treatments that work to combat sickness at its source.
As Patrick Short, Chief Executive of Sano, explains, 'Because our DNA does not change through our lives, our DNA â along with information about our environment and behavior â should be a powerful tool for moving towards proactive rather than reactive healthcare.'
However, critical to future advancements in treatments will be seamless scientific collaboration across international borders, with the importance of this demonstrated by the success of cross-border genomic research in response to the pandemic.