Eric Topol: Personalized medicine requires data infrastructure, expertise

Algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning increasingly will be central to personalized medicine, outlining the need for talented biocomputing and bioinformatic human expertise, writes Eric Topol, M.D., in an article at Cell.

Topol (pictured right), a cardiologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, discusses how genetics will be used in varying ways from pre-conception and throughout a patient's life.

Using the information effectively will require the infrastructure and expertise to handle the massive amounts of data created from biosensors, imaging and other sources.

"One of the most attractive outgrowths of defining each individual's unique biology in an era with unprecedented digital infrastructure is to be able to share the data. By taking the de-identified data from each individual, including panoromic, biosensors, social graph, treatment and outcomes, an extraordinary resource can now be developed," Topol writes.

Data-sharing will allow doctors to choose the best path to follow for a particular patient.

"Although we are still at the nascent stages of individualized medicine, there has never been more promise and opportunity to reboot the way health care can be rendered. Only with systematic validation of these approaches at the intersection of biology and digital technology can we actualize this more precise, futuristic version of medicine," he writes.

Cancer research, in particular, has been the focus of an array of projects aimed at individualizing treatment. Among the latest is a $45 million data mining project by the U.S. Department of Defense.

England is creating a cancer database tracking all 350,000 new tumors detected each year as well as 11 million historical records going back as far as 30 years.

Topol, an avid advocate of embracing technology in healthcare, is conducting a clinical trial involving high-risk patients being hooked up to personal data trackers. He sees remote patient monitoring as the future, using technologies such as a portable electrocardiogram built into a smartphone case, but adds, "We've got a long way for this to become routine."

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