Life without disease
In the last century health care made incredible progresses. Purified water and better food take the lion share in this progress, although they are often underestimated. Drugs, surgery (enabled by anesthesia), antibiotics and more recently anti-immune therapy have fought diseases that were killing millions of people.
On the horizon we have the hope to cure genetic diseases, as our understanding of the genome grows and technology for modifying the genome (both in vitro IVF and in grown up person) becomes available.
However, we can expect in the coming decades two major revolutions:
- quicker understanding of what is going on both at a community and at a personal level
- shift from curing to keeping healthy.
the first revolution leverage on big data as they are becoming more and more available from health care records and from a variety of sensors. We already know that this is a mine of enormous wealth that can bring significant benefit at personal and societal level. First signs of epidemics can be detected and appropriate action to contain the spread can be taken (cell phone tracking helped to foresee the potential spread of the latest Ebola infection). More than that. Knowing the presence of an infectious agent in a community raises the attention of care givers to that particular pathogen and symptoms can be evaluated in that context leading to more appropriate actions. Even more: by monitoring the effect of the cure/containment it is possible to improve it making it more effective.
Correlating data of thousands/millions of people allows the detection of niches (thinly dispersed) having specific characteristics like being more susceptible to a specific drug and this allows for a much better cure. The generalised sequencing of the genome in the coming decades will provide huge amount of data increasing the possibility of understanding patterns of disease spread and cure effectiveness.
The technology is basically here (although it will improve in the coming years), the real hurdle is privacy, the concern that these data might be mis-used.
The second revolution will be fuelled and made possible by quasi real time monitoring of our bodies, the understanding of the genome and the possibility to act immediately. In a way it will be the shift from “sick-care” to a real “health-care” where the goal is to remain in good health. This is what can make life without disease possible (at least a goal).
Wearable, ambient and contact/embedded sensors (in this order) will be providing a continuous monitoring of our body physiological parameter and these will be matched, in our digital twin with the expected ones (taking into account the situation, the kind of activity we are engaged, the mood and of course our genome). Any deviation will trigger an analyses to determine the probable cause and further testing (through already existing sensors or through specific procedures) may be activated. Corrective actions, including the assumption of drugs (monitored from remote), can be taken immediately, often using the drugs that we will be carrying along in our body in a chip, ready to be released, in case of some chronic situation or via a robot dispenser bringing us the drugs!
Will a life without disease becoming a reality. I doubt, but for sure our capabilities to foresee and act will be increasing tremendously in the next decades.