The life science community is in the midst of its third major revolution since the late 19th century, and this development could not have come at a more important time. In spite of many useful modern healthcare developments, the American medical community faces a growing need for solutions to pressing, widespread health issues, both at home and abroad. Additionally, the U.S. is in the positon of needing to defend its role as a world leader in health innovation. As prices for healthcare rise exponentially in the country, the quality of care is increasing at a similar pace.
As a movement, Convergence in Healthcare is best understood as a coming together of experts from the fields of mathematics, physics, life science, chemistry and computer engineering to exchange and apply interdisciplinary ideas and concepts in a way that transcends collaboration. Convergence in Healthcare aims to create a new way to approach medical research to allow those in related disciplines to develop pioneering ideas that may never have been discovered without the versatility of a group of researchers with diverse professional backgrounds.
As outlined in the report “Convergence: The Future of Health,” Convergence in Healthcare faces challenges at the educational, industrial and federal levels. If efforts were made to encourage Convergence in Healthcare in each of these areas, the medical community would be in a better position to address certain global health issues, including the three listed below.
Contagious Disease Spread by Mosquitoes
Some of the world’s most dangerous diseases spread by mosquitos include the Zika virus, malaria, West Nile virus, dengue fever and yellow fever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, malaria alone kills more than 1 million people annually. Philanthropist and principal founder of Microsoft Corporation Bill Gates has drawn attention to disease-carrying mosquitoes in his humanitarian work, labeling the mosquito the “deadliest animal in the world” and noting that even in cases not resulting in death, the diseases spread by mosquitoes incapacitate more than 200 million people each year.
Through Convergence in Healthcare, researchers are exploring more effective ways to contain mosquito populations responsible for the spread of dangerous infectious diseases. One promising method stems from research conducted by Harvard scientists, who are experimenting with an engineering principle named gene drive.
Gene drive allows scientists to alter mosquito genetics to yield groups of females with a fatal gene in their biology. The genetically altered females are released where populations of wild infectious mosquitoes live. They breed with the infectious populations and pass on the fatal gene to their offspring. This results in a decrease in the number of infectious mosquitoes, with the eventual goal of eradicating them.
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the world, claiming the lives of almost 9 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. WHO also reports that between 30 and 50 percent of cancer cases occurring annually could be prevented.
Convergence in Healthcare has the potential to not only help the medical community discover cancer cures but it may also help researchers find more effective methods of prevention and early diagnosis that lead to better outcomes. Convergence in Healthcare has spawned some of the most exciting initiatives including research for cancer immunotherapies and a cancer vaccine.
A new research method involves engineering synthetic genetic circuits to detect the presence of bad bacteria in the body and trigger an action in response. Though currently only tested for use in gut bacteria, proponents of Convergence in Healthcare hope — with more time and investment — scientists may be able to use synthetic biological engineering to help the body monitor cell activity and take action to modify activity that is unusual, such as the behavior of cancer cells, effectively stopping the disease as it starts.
Poor Metrics for Wellness
While people benefit from taking macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, each person’s specific health needs depend on a number of factors. These include diet, environment, personal behaviors and genetic factors. In spite of similar advances in other fields, the medical community has yet to develop a simple, affordable way to obtain a full, detailed portrait of individual patient nutrition and physical health. Such a development could help patients make better daily decisions to ultimately help them achieve peak wellness.
Researchers posit that Convergence in Healthcare could lead to the creation of a healthcare system where comprehensive personal information on each patient could be shared among physicians through the intersection of life science and information technology. Patient health data collected by smart devices could be processed through Big Data tools such as machine learning to quickly and economically detect health patterns and information, making it easier for physicians to get the entire picture of their patients’ health.
Not only could this benefit the health of individual patients, but machine learning could also help medical researchers identify patterns as predictors of future health problems. Patients could take steps to avoid negative health consequences before they manifest. Ultimately, this would have an impact on not just the individual, but also on public health.