In 2016, a team of researchers and academics led by employees of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published a report “Convergence: The Future of Health.” In it, team members broadly addressed their colleagues within the scientific community. The report stated that while Convergence in Healthcare was integral to curing disease, making healthcare more affordable and closing the health disparity gap between economic classes, there are many obstacles hindering its progress.
Convergence in Healthcare currently faces challenges of industry, education and government support. This resulted in the slow growth of a movement key to modernizing the medical community and, according to the report, addressing “the most significant challenges of human existence in the 21st century.”
Though Convergence in Healthcare has many issues that must be navigated before reaching its true potential, recent years have seen the establishment of several promising initiatives that are fully embracing the movement as they pursue research goals. Listed below is an overview of three high-profile initiatives in the United States that employ Convergence in Healthcare as a means to conduct life-saving medical research for all.
The BRAIN Initiative
In 2013, then-President Barack Obama introduced the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. The effort aims to improve the treatment, diagnosis and methods of prevention for illnesses that impact the human brain by focusing on the development of new technologies. The initiative is a public-private collaboration that has five primary goals.
The first goal of the BRAIN Initiative is to boost innovation by supporting multi-disciplinary teams — the essence of Convergence in Healthcare. The second goal focuses on dynamic imaging and the promotion of research to improve imaging technologies and give scientists a more comprehensive view of real-time brain function. The third goal focuses on brain functionality itself, and aims to gather professionals from different scientific disciplines to best examine complex brain functions, including the way that the mind processes, stores, uses, records and retrieves large volumes of data. This ties directly to the initiative’s fourth goal, which is meant to leverage new knowledge about these functions to better understand human behavior. The last goal is to provide patients with neurological devices that are both safe and effective.
In just five years, the BRAIN Initiative has realized some significant success in pursuing these goals, such as the development of a device that allows for thoughts to be translated into movement via computing and the implantation of micro-electrodes in the brain. Additionally, the BRAIN Initiative established a project geared toward designing wiring diagrams that map the brain from the macro scale down to individual synapses.
Altogether, the National Institutes of Health has granted the BRAIN Initiative an investment of $4.5 billion over 12 years, as specified in its report BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, for its Convergence-friendly approach to revolutionizing the field of neuroscience.
The Precision Medicine Initiative
The Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) is another government-sponsored program that President Obama introduced just two years after the BRAIN Initiative. PMI focuses heavily on genomics. It aims to alter the way medical professionals treat disease and determine prevention methods for diverse groups of individuals with different genes, lifestyles and living environments.
PMI’s short-term goals include efforts to promote the treatment of cancer through precision medicine by means of clinical trials for targeted drugs, innovation through the exploration of combination therapies and research aimed at minimizing drug resistance in patients.
It is PMI’s long-term goal that is even more deeply convergent, as the initiative hopes to bring together more than 1 million Americans to voluntarily participate in a mass research effort. These volunteers would give biological samples, share information about their lifestyle and diet choices and provide genetic data for the purpose of research. Collected data would be used for the study of pharmacogenomics as well as the treatment and prevention of disease. The project will also include studying the potential part that mobile devices can play in helping humans practice healthy behaviors.
This aspect of PMI’s long-term goal is highly convergent because, through this project, the initiative hopes to redesign the model for scientific research. This project aims to establish an approach to science that champions health data privacy, responsible methods of sharing sensitive personal data, and the involvement of engaged citizen participants who can actually contribute to the development of new precision medicines that cure diseases many people face in their lifetimes. This long-term research project is called the All of Us Research Program, and as of 2018 PMI continues to recruit volunteers on its website at www.allofus.nih.gov.
National Cancer Moonshot Initiative
The third major health initiative that President Obama introduced during his tenure in office was the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, which he appointed then-Vice President Joe Biden to lead in 2016. The initiative is simple, yet incredibly important to medical researchers and millions of Americans who have been diagnosed with cancer or supported a loved diagnosed with cancer. The Cancer Moonshot is an effort that means to entirely eradicate the disease.
The goals of the Cancer Moonshot are to conduct 10 years’ worth of cancer research in half the time, focusing on treatment and patient care as well as prevention, detection and diagnosis. The initiative aims to bring together the brightest minds from the research, medical and data sectors to encourage collaboration in hopes of eliminating the wait to find a cure.
Leaders of the Cancer Moonshot continue to encourage active participation from nonprofits, cancer centers, universities, research institutes, governments and the private sector, knowing that this convergent approach to cancer research may be the best chance America has at being the country to cure a disease that claims so many lives every year.
Any private citizen or experienced professional can learn more about the Cancer Moonshot or join the fight to end cancer by visiting www.bidencancer.org.