Since 2011, Convergence in Healthcare has been an important topic of discussion among professionals in the medical community — many of whom consider it the third revolution of the life sciences. Academics from some of the top research institutions in the US contend that Convergence in Healthcare is the future of medicine, and to ignore its potential is to limit future innovations in the way physicians diagnose, treat and prevent illness. Listed below are five facts about Convergence in Healthcare that everyone should know to better understand what it is and how it may change human health for the better.
Convergence is a concept that can be applied to many areas of science, technology and business.
It’s important to acknowledge that convergence is occurring across virtually every industry today. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), convergence is a research method “driven by a specific and compelling problem” which demands “deep integration across disciplines.” At its core, convergence is a method through which researchers from diverse academic disciplines may more effectively communicate, exchange ideas and cooperatively problem-solve to find innovative solutions to the world’s most complex health problems.
Convergence in Healthcare was first detailed by MIT scientists in 2011.
Convergence as it applies to the biomedical industry was first articulated by a group of 12 researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in a 2011 white paper on the subject. The report lauded convergence as “the result of true intellectual cross-pollination” and “a blueprint for innovation,” and described it as “the coming together of different fields of study — particularly engineering, physical sciences and life sciences.”
In 2016, academics from MIT alongside a collection of scientists from other top universities expanded on the concept in the white paper “Convergence: The Future of Health.” This report improved on the initial idea of convergence between the physical sciences, life sciences and engineering to also include chemistry, mathematics and computing. In addition, it provided a number of detailed examples of Convergence in Healthcare already at work and offered insight into which areas of medicine might be best served through its application. Thanks to the early work of MIT and other institutions, Convergence in Healthcare has since gained support from major funding organizations such as the NSF and the National Institutes of Health.
Experts believe convergence is a key factor in the future of medicine.
As stated in the 2016 MIT report, scientists believe that taking a convergent approach to medical research could solve some of the most difficult issues in medicine today. These include the need for greater understanding of the human brain and its processes, better ways to treat and prevent infectious disease, more effective approaches to cancer diagnosis and treatment and improvements in the study, management and prevention of common chronic diseases such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
To demonstrate Convergence in Healthcare’s potential, the same white paper outlines the ways in which a convergent approach to biomedical research has already yielded promising results. These include advances in the areas of molecular, whole organ and whole body imaging; new developments in nanotechnology for drug therapies; regenerative medicine, and personalized healthcare for patients. More detailed information about the impact of convergence on these areas of medicine may be found by reading the white paper here.
Many countries are already benefiting from convergent research.
Whereas American investment in medical innovation has declined over the last 15 years, other countries have been doubling down on pioneering biomedical research in terms of both funding and willingness to deviate from tradition. The US made up 57 percent of the world’s total medical research and development spending in 2004; that number had shrunk by 13 percent just a decade later, with most of the difference made up by countries on the Asian continent. In the same time period, Asia as a whole increased its spending on medical R&D by nearly 10 percent annually.
What’s more, these same countries are not just widening the scope of their medical research through ample funding, but are allocating some funds specifically to convergence-based research initiatives. Take, for example, the China International Nanotech Innovation Park, a joint public-private venture under the Chinese government’s oversight. The project created a research park where Convergence in Healthcare naturally arises as a result of the academic laboratories, private research institutions and corporate research and development centers all dedicated to nanotechnology operating in a shared space.
The bold propagation of large-scale projects such as the innovation park, which are convergent in nature, are one of the reasons many in the American medical community believe China is poised to become the world leader in medical R&D within the next decade — especially if US funding priorities do not change.
The future of convergence in the US will require participation from many stakeholders.
Unfortunately, the current approach to medical research and development taken by the US government and the medical industry will not allow the country to remain competitive as a healthcare innovator. However, widespread support for convergence-based healthcare research could create pivotal change.
MIT leadership lists a “robust, steady, and sustained boost to the NIH budget above inflationary levels” as a key factor in the growth of Convergence in Healthcare, as well as the promotion of convergence internally at agencies like the NSF, Department of Energy, Department of Defense (including DARPA), and the Food and Drug Administration. At the academic and industrial level, the MIT report encourages more cross-departmental collaboration between the sciences, including the establishment of graduate programs and professional departments specifically dedicated to convergent research. Other recommendations include a significant increase in the number of grants and research awards available exclusively for projects that combine principles from two or more scientific disciplines.