Discussing Genomics, Big Data and Medicine

For anyone who has an inkling of interest in the conversations around genomics, big data and medicine, I highly recommend this series of talks that are available publicly online, by the Icahn School of Medicine

In particular, this was a great session by Tim Kelsey, who is the national director for patients and information in the NHS.  He touched upon many of the thorny issues we have to begin conversations about, as we move towards personalised medicine.

If you don’t have time to watch it through (about an hour long), I’ve got some of the key points noted down:

  • The UK has deeply thought about the sustainability of their universal healthcare system in the near future, and have projected that there will be significant shortfalls in funding (to the tune of 30 billion pounds). As such, they have begun forward thinking, coming up with a 5 year forward view that may allow the system to remain sustainable, if they adopt certain technologies.
  • Healthcare is one of the most dangerous industries (20,000 avoidable deaths in the UK each year), and transparency is a key safeguard against it. No black box algorithms.
  • Personalised medicine – What happens if only the rich will be able to afford such an option?
  • In the era of personalised medicine, insurance-based healthcare may no longer be viable – how do you price premiums when you can predict risk accurately? A universal health system may then be the only option.
  • Shortening the gap between chronological age and healthily-lived life is of key interest in Japan and Korean. In Japan today, there are about 18,000 centennials (>100 years old). In 2050, there are projected to be 500,000 centennials, a 25 times increase
  • If you look at the key drivers (and potential savers) of costs in healthcare, it is not at the higher end of the spectrum when high-touch intervention is done (eg robotic surgery). But rather, it is the application of technology of support lifestyle and prevention.
  • It is a fallacy that developing countries have lower quality healthcare systems than in countries like the US.  There are many fast-growing countries that provide surprisingly high-quality healthcare, for example in India. This is because they’ve skipped the legacy of the 20th century, and jumped straight into adopting cheap mobile technology. The entrenched resistance against innovation among providers is far stronger in developed nations like the UK and US.


Disclaimer : I think the Icahn School of Medicine is awesome. Which other medical school in the world has a motto similar to “At our school, we write the rules. And then we break them”.  It is obvious how innovation thinking is built into the very foundation of their curriculum, a rarity in healthcare.

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