The United States is a world leader in many aspects of scientific development. However, a combination of reduced government funding and growing competition from other technologically forward countries poses the possibility of America falling behind its peers and losing its status as a pioneer in the field of medical research.
This matter goes beyond mere economics. The U.S. has historically been home to innovators who push the boundaries of science to discover new and better ways to treat, diagnose and prevent diseases affecting populations around the world. If the U.S. hopes to continue to drive medical innovation for the good of humanity, it is crucial the country’s scientific community learns to embrace the concept of Convergence in Healthcare.
Convergence in Healthcare is best described as the union of experts from the physical science, life science, mathematics, engineering and computing sectors in a way which comprehensively informs human health research. Convergence aims to bring these groups of professionals together to radically expand the scope of health research, and in so doing, prompt innovative discoveries unlike any seen before.
From the officials who oversee the allocation of resources to government-funded science research agencies, to academic leaders, to the science professionals working for firms where a convergent approach could completely alter the bottom line, here are five important things everyone should know about the Convergence in Healthcare movement.
Convergence in Healthcare is considered to be the third revolution in life sciences.
As the field of life science progressed, various pioneering inventions and movements marked the start of new eras of development, beginning with the invention of the X-ray in 1895. The X-ray led to the first revolution in life sciences, as its later iterations of the technology in the mid-19th century facilitated the discovery of the structure of DNA. This first revolution was followed by the “Genomic Revolution” of the 1990s, in which government agencies funded computer-based genetic research that allowed scientists to develop specific treatments for diseases based on the genetic makeup of individual patients. Convergence in Healthcare is the third life science revolution, and it is poised to completely alter the way the scientific community approaches research as a whole.
The U.S. government has already launched support for convergence-based initiatives.
During the administration of President Barack Obama, the White House as well as key government agencies enacted a series of programs and initiatives dependent on convergent healthcare research. These included the BRAIN Initiative, focused on advanced research of the brain in an effort to develop new cures for brain disorders; the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, focused on the discovery of new diagnostic and prevention methods for cancer; and the Precision Medicine Initiative, which aimed to collect and analyze health data to improve the medical knowledge of human biology.
American universities are implementing convergent programs and research initiatives.
Some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the country are already investing in convergent initiatives on their own campuses. These include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, California Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has established a new medical school with an entirely convergent curriculum, instructing its students in traditional medicine while incorporating elements of technology, Big Data and engineering. Its first class of students begins the first semester in fall 2018.
Examples of convergent research can be seen in the products of major U.S. companies.
In addition to the participation of people from the academic and medical research communities, some of the most successful American businesses are also becoming involved with Convergence in Healthcare through the development of new products to meet a number of needs.
For example, Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, developed Verily, a program using convergent technology to collect different forms of data with the aim of predicting diseases in humans sooner than ever before. Health data tracking products have been developed by companies such as Apple and Microsoft for use in medical settings to help medical professionals obtain a more comprehensive picture of patient health.
Convergent research has even spread to the nonprofit sector. Smaller organizations are using its concepts to design inexpensive, effective tests for the diagnosis of disease in developing countries.
Convergence in Healthcare may help researchers diagnose, treat and prevent the world’s most deadly diseases.
As detailed in “Convergence: The Future of Health,” academics believe the strongest case for total acceptance of Convergence in Healthcare as the new normal in medical research lies with its potential to fulfill some of the most pressing unmet needs in healthcare. These include better understanding of and treatments for injury and illness in the human brain, affordable solutions for infections and immunity in countries with high poverty levels, more effective treatment for and earlier detection of cancer and an increased ability to predict the development of common chronic diseases in patients.