03 February 2011

Medicine in 10 years: four "P"

Biomedical technologies of the future
Anton Evseev, "The Truth.Ru"

At the beginning of February this year, an international session dedicated to the development of biomedical technologies was held within the framework of the meeting of the Advisory Scientific Council of the Skolkovo Foundation. According to many scientists present there, the "highlight of the program" of the session was the report of the founder and director of the Institute of Systems Biology, Professor Leroy Hood.

From 1 to 3 February this year, a meeting of the Advisory Scientific Council of the Skolkovo Foundation was held in Moscow. Within the framework of the Council's work, several events were planned at once. One of the most interesting points of the program was the international session dedicated to the development of biomedical technologies.

As a matter of fact, this session can truly be considered the most important scientific event in Russia since the beginning of 2011. At least because world-renowned scientists took part in its work. Many of them have long become legends of the modern scientific world. With particular impatience, all those gathered were waiting for the report of Professor Leroy Hood, founder and director of the Institute of Systems Biology (USA) of man, who at one time was said to be the founder of all modern sequencing technologies (determination of the nucleotide sequence of a DNA molecule) and synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids, without 5 minutes a Nobel laureate, although for a long time he has already outgrown this prize and many Nobel laureates are working on his discoveries.

Among molecular biologists, Dr. Hood is known as the inventor of the DNA synthesizer. Let me remind you that this is the name of a device that allows for the parallel synthesis of about a hundred short chains of nucleic acids. With this device, you can create DNA and RNA, as well as carry out various modifications of these molecules. According to the leaders of the famous Lemelson Foundation, it was the DNA synthesizer that ensured the success of the Human Genome project of the Institute for Systems Biology, as a result of which a map of the complete set of human genes was compiled.

In addition, Dr. Hood is considered the founder of a fundamentally new direction in medicine, called "4-P" medicine. The four letters "P" imply that this industry should be predictive (predictive, allowing predicting diseases based on individual genome characteristics), personalized (that is, applying an individual approach to each patient), preventive (that is, working ahead of the curve, preventing the possibility of disease), participatory (that is, based on the active cooperation of various specialists, as well as doctors and patients).

The basic principle of "4-P" medicine is constant genetic and biochemical testing of people. This will allow you to identify many diseases in the early stages of development, even before a person feels unwell (after which everyone usually goes to the doctor). According to Dr. Hood's forecasts, in the near future scientists will be able to identify the genetics of most diseases, and this will significantly increase the life expectancy of each person: "My forecast is that in the next three decades we will witness an amazing increase in human life expectancy, perhaps by 10-20 years."

Also, according to the scientist, the rapid development of biomedical technologies will lead to the fact that: "in 10 years we will own nanotechnological tools that will allow us to study the genome in less than an hour. We will have devices that will allow us to conduct 10 thousand different tests based on blood analysis from a finger. We will send the received cellular data to the server, which will send you messages every six hours, like "You are healthy" or "It's time for you to visit an oncologist."

However, in order for this to happen, it is necessary to develop a new, systemic biology that will be closely integrated with other scientific disciplines. Dr. Hood spoke about this, as well as about the latest achievements in a new field, in his report at the international session on the development of biomedical technologies.

The scientist stated that a systematic view of diseases means that to some extent there is a violation in the biological network, which actually causes the disease. If you arm yourself with this principle, you can take a completely different look at the treatment of diseases itself, and at the possibilities of medicine in general. Such a violation cannot go unnoticed for all the molecular structures of the body, it can be caught by examining genes and their work.

Some progress has already been made on this path. Currently, based on the study of various genomes, we have identified 5 main types of people for ourselves, and now we can confidently predict the probability of 8-9 different diseases, including cancer.

Of course, the task we have set does not look simple, it will be necessary to learn how to extract information about the activity of the whole organism from one cell, translate this information into digital mode, while doing it all promptly. This means that out of about 70 thousand genes, it is necessary to isolate the one that, whether as a result of a mutation or another change, causes the system to malfunction. The detection of such a gene should be carried out in a preventive mode, even before the manifestation of the disease.

The use of this method will bring medicine to a qualitatively new level. In two years, we plan to deal with all types of human DNA, this will make the analysis and diagnosis even more accurate. And although I repeat once again that this is a very difficult task, however, we already have some successes in this area. We are now approaching the fact that we can make up to 25 thousand measurements based on the analysis of one drop of blood. At the same time, billions of pieces of information are needed for the operational control of diseases, the development of techniques will require the efforts of many doctors, it will be necessary to collect thousands, millions of patients. However, I believe that it will be quite possible to achieve all this."

So, the main approach of the new medicine is to identify the possibility of a malfunction in the work of the human body at the most subtle, molecular level. Until recently, it seemed unreal. By the way, the author of these lines during the report of the great scientist constantly heard the remarks coming from the scientists sitting next to him: "This is just fantastic! However, it is possible!". It seems that even Dr. Hood's colleagues did not expect to hear such stunning things from him.

According to the scientist, one of the factors that can ensure the rapid development of this industry is the creation of conditions that allow young professionals to quickly implement their developments. According to the scientist, the shortage of educated personnel in science is not only a Russian, but also a universal problem. "We spend a lot of time and money on education, training, training of young specialists. It takes years before the young specialists who come to us begin to understand what they are doing and can have their say in the development of the subject. But at the same time, we understand that young scientists need to be given the opportunity to establish themselves in science, to be given the opportunity to have their say," said Leroy Hood.

The most interesting thing is that one of the tasks of the Skolkovo innovation center is to create opportunities for scientists to quickly implement their own projects. So, most likely, Leroy Hood will be able to agree on cooperation with the management of Skolkovo in the near future. Although the scientist does not directly talk about his plans in this direction, however, it became known that he proposed to organize a branch of the Institute of Systems Biology and Medicine in Innograd, similar to the one that was created with his participation in Luxembourg. The activity of such an institute, according to the researcher, requires rather modest funding, namely 100 million US dollars for 5 years.

To some, such a figure may seem too large, but such an institution is necessary for our country if we want to be leaders in the development of biomedical technologies. As Professor Evgeny Nikolaev said about his colleague's speech: "... the knowledge and technologies possessed by the scientific school of Leroy Hood, without any doubt, are interesting and would be useful for our science and medicine." And this means that, most likely, there will still be a branch of the Institute of Systems Biology in Skolkovo.

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