This article was originally posted on Nosta & Friends.
As patients and healthcare providers seek broader resources to manage wellness concerns, it’s no surprise that new partnerships are forming to marry technological advances with traditional medical approaches. But more needs to be done – and it’s hard to stand by impatiently waiting, isn’t it?
If competing companies could put a hiatus on shielding their secrets and join forces in an open source framework for the good of all, the possibilities would be endless.
Here are a few current pairings that can change the world:
Personal genetics company 23andMe, which offers DNA results for ancestry purposes (and, with renewed FDA approval, health purposes), states their mission is: “To help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome.” This extends to the scientific community.
To that end, they’ve always offered the option for customers to make their DNA samples available to research groups. Of the 800,000 samples purchased since opening their doors in 2006, roughly 600,000 are available for research [source: Forbes, “Surprise! With $60 Million Genentech Deal, 23andMe Has A Business Plan”].
It makes perfect sense for a company like biotech giant Genentech – which uses “human genetic information to discover, develop, manufacture and commercialize medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions” – to want to access such an extensive DNA database, saving time and money over having to gather that information itself. This is especially true given the built-in communities 23andMe has established – like one for those affected by Parkinsons, a disease that Genentech is interested in studying further.
This combo is going to revolutionize research. According to VentureBeat, 23andMe has atleast twelve more partnerships in the works!
IBM Watson and Mayo Clinic (and more)
IBM’s natural-language processing, almost-human, intuitive computing machine “Watson” may be famous for winning on Jeopardy!, but that’s nothing compared to whatelse it can do: “It uses programmatic computing plus the combination of three additional capabilities that make Watson truly unique: natural language processing, hypothesis generation and evaluation, and dynamic learning.” Meaning it understands what we say, and continuously learns as it goes.
Mayo Clinic is just one healthcare organization using Watson’s cognitive applications to improve medical services – in this case, by matching candidates to clinical trials needing additional members to achieve completion. But they’re hardly alone. Others are using Watson to streamline data and enhance cancer treatment options (MD Anderson in Texas, Cleveland Clinic, Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand); to evaluate clinical trial results used to inform future drug and treatment advances (Johnson & Johnson); and to connect to broader resources for cases where multiple live colleagues are not available for brainstorming (LifeLearn mobile solutions for animal health).
IBM is also personally funding an initiative to bring Watson to Africa for a 10-year mission aimed at improving various facets of life for African natives, including help with diagnostic accuracy in areas where doctors are scarce.
Even with all of that, which sounds (and is) impressive, the potential for more could read like a next-level sci-fi wish list. What are we waiting for?
Apple and Medical Researchers
IBM Watson isn’t the only helpful technology being offered to clinical trial recruiters. Apple’s new ResearchKit is an open source interface which builds on the HealthKit app and allows iPhone users to participate in clinical research of associated app partners. ResearchKit won’t be available until April, but Apple has already launched individual apps for asthma, Parkinsons, diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease. These apps, developed by leading healthcare organizations like Mt. Sinai and Massachusetts General Hospital, allow users to tracks symptoms and provide data to the sponsoring organizations for research purposes.
Haven’t heard of them? That’s part of the problem.
Google and Novartis
Forget smart phones – Google and major pharmaceutical company Novartis are teaming up to develop the first smart contact lenses, with two (so far) goals in mind: eliminate the need for reading glasses in people whose near vision deteriorates with age, and provide a new alternative for measuring glucose levels in diabetics (reading glucose levels in tears). The lenses are in the earliest stage of development, and there are a lot of unknowns that make their success difficult to predict, but how amazing is it to even think about what Google and Novartis hope these lenses can do?
We need more pharmaceutical companies developing smart tech like this, don’t you agree?
Information is overwhelming physicians
Part of what each of these partnerships are doing – whether the sole intention or not – is putting an incalculable amount of big data at the disposal of medical professionals. But it’s not just that. They’re sifting through and interpreting data that doctors simply do not have time to keep up with.
Joab Jackson, writing for CIO, was told by IBM senior vice president Mike Rhodin, “Medical information doubles every three years and by 2020 will double every 73 days. As a result, a doctor can no longer rely solely on their own medical training, even with voracious reading of the latest medical journals. ‘We are human, and there are limits to what we can learn,’ [Rhodin] said.”
Obviously this makes a compelling argument for using IBM’s Watson machine. But there’s a broader argument to consider, and that is the “democratization of healthcare,” as Dr. Stephen Friend, president of Sage Bionetworks, and Dr. Andrew Trister, senior physician at Sage Bionetworks called it when speaking to Forbes contributor, Ashoka:
Through projects like our Bridge – in which we ask patients to tell us what is important to them about their health and what they would like researchers to study – we have been exploring the incentives and structures that allow people to more actively participate in research, not as ‘subjects’ but rather as partners.
Friend and Trister were speaking specifically about ResearchKit – which leads perfectly into my next point:
All of these companies individually have offered life-changing innovations in their time. Partnering to bridge the gap between technology and medicine and bring digital healthcare forward is a logical next step for each of them. But what if they thought even bigger?
What if they ALL joined forces to create a digital health alliance comprising the entirety of their collective technology, innovation strategies, medical knowledge, etc? How amazing would THAT be?
Imagine if ResearchKit users with the Parkinsons app were sending their data to the same Parkinsons study being run by Genentech, using 23andMe’s DNA archives, but also collecting new samples from willing ResearchKit users? And then all of the data was processed by IBM Watson, and made available to medical facilities across the country – or even around the world?
It might already be happening.
According to this piece by CCG consulting, Apple and IBM are already working together, integrating Watson with Siri to offer in-the-field diagnostic resources for first responders and doctors.
23andMe has 12 partnership deals with pharmaceutical companies looking for answers to disease mysteries in genetic data. So how hard would it be to extend ever further and come together with other technology companies and/or medical facilities to help break down and understand this data?
While innovations like the Apple Watch have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible, ideas like Google Calico and Amazon Cloud pose questions about how we’ll deal with aging and sharing medical data and privacy.
There’s a lot we can’t begin to know yet when it comes to digital healthcare, but it’s time to start thinking in terms of collaboration. So let’s get going on that!