A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 2011 whitepaper first explored the idea of convergence as a powerful tool for the advancement of modern science. With each passing year, professionals from science’s major disciplines explored and commended the advantages presented by a deep integration between the sciences — namely, the promise of unprecedented innovation at a pace that befits the capabilities presented by today’s rapid rate of technological expansion.
Though convergence as a concept can be applied to any area of science, MIT’s whitepaper “Convergence: The Future of Health,” highlights the movement’s potential effect on the healthcare sector. Listed below are five ways academic leaders believe Convergence in Healthcare could change the future of the healthcare sector for everyone.
Cures for the world’s most devastating illnesses.
Convergence in Healthcare may lead to the discovery of new treatment methods, diagnostic tools and preventive medicine for serious illness worldwide. Within the pages of “Convergence: The Future of Health,” scientists focus on four key areas of unmet opportunity to highlight the potential of the convergence movement. These include the treatment of brain injury and illness, infectious disease, cancer and chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
The report further details several areas of emerging technology of the convergence movement and the new medical tools developed as a direct result. The areas identified as strongly influenced by the growth of convergence include imaging in the body, nanotechnology applied to drug therapies, regenerative medicine and health IT.
More accessible, autonomous health tools for consumers.
Beyond the general improvement of human health, another benefit of Convergence in Healthcare is the creation of tools for consumers to have more control over their own health.
The development of affordable, autonomous diagnostic tools through convergence could allow people to screen themselves for serious illnesses from their homes, encouraging more frequent disease screening to catch illness at earlier stages. Examples of these tools include paper-based urine tests for cancer and smartphone apps capable of assessing a child’s risk of having autism spectrum disorder.
Other health tools could be used to develop smart sensors capable of detecting episodes of life-threatening conditions before they occur. Through convergence, scientists are exploring the possibility of sensors worn by or implanted into patients’ bodies to passively detect data at an advanced level.
Through the aggregation and computer processing of mass amounts of data, programs could be developed to allow scientists to single out new warning signs of impending illness such as heart attack or stroke. Sensors could be designed to monitor and alert patients that such conditions are imminent before the actual event. so they could seek medical help at a time when the odds of successful intervention are best.
Diversified learning at the post-secondary level.
The current educational model in the United States — at the K through 12 and the post-secondary levels — is not preparing today’s young learners for STEM careers. Convergence in Healthcare may begin to change educational models by forcing a positive shift in how university students pursuing STEM careers are educated.
There are many pioneering universities implementing programs to encourage cross-departmental education. Most colleges, though, adhere to a rigid structure of single subject departments. The success of Convergence in Healthcare could potentially encourage more universities to break down the barriers separating STEM fields.
This could lead to more diversified curricula for students in the sciences. MIT’s whitepaper suggests online education resources, flexible advising models, convergent PhD programs, cross-departmental hiring and “cultural exchanges” between students studying different STEM subjects could help facilitate the change.
An increase in the U.S. medical research and development budget.
The primary recommendation in the concluding chapter of “Convergence: The Future of Health” relates to increasing the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). MIT leadership suggests the NIH’s position as the world’s largest funder of biomedical research makes it a key asset in the growth of Convergence in Healthcare. The agency could devote a significant portion of its total research and development (R&D) budget to supporting convergence-based projects.
For Convergence in Healthcare to fulfill its potential, the NIH budget must increase above inflationary levels. This is a necessary increase, as the U.S. budget for biomedical R&D has fallen to rates lower than those of 2003 when adjusted for inflation. If the federal government grants this request, the annual funding should allow the NIH to devote at least 20 percent of its funding to Convergence in Healthcare research.
Healthier people from every demographic and country around the world.
Ultimately, the biggest change the global population is poised to see as a result of Convergence in Healthcare is a much-needed increase in access to affordable, effective healthcare.
The United States plays a key role in the world’s biomedical research. However, without Convergence in Healthcare, the American science community could lose its leading edge. This would be detrimental to world health research as a whole. It would also slow the pace of innovation in a time where the population continues to grow at an exponential rate.
Convergence in Healthcare represents the best possible chance the world has to meet the burgeoning health needs of a world rich in technology.