HEALTH 27th September 2017

COULD THIS MARK THE END
OF MEDICINE?

By
  • What if you never had to worry about getting sick?

  • What if diseases like alzheimer’s, cancer and stroke were preventable?

  • In just five years, they may be

  • Welcome to the world of nanomedicine

The sooner a disease is diagnosed, the more likely it is to be cured. With nanomedicine, that diagnosis would happen before symptoms even arise. This remarkable breakthrough has the potential to change they way we live, forever.

What is nanomedicine?

In simple terms, it is the science of working with particles that are one billionth of a meter – seriously small stuff. But working on this scale is where the magic happens. Using nano-chips and other devices, nanomedicine has the potential to detect disease before it forms, marking a turning point not seen in medicine since the discovery of DNA.

How it works

Tiny bioparticles called exosomes live on the outside of your cell walls. They can be found in saliva, tears, blood, urine and sweat. Exosomes store information on your DNA, for example, if you’re predisposed to diseases such as alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.

Due to their microscopic size (exosomes are one thousand times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair), accessing and analyzing them is difficult. But now, scientists at the Translational Systems Biology and Nanobiotechnology Program at IBM, may have cracked the case.

Lead by Dr. Gustavo Stolovitzky, the team at IBM are developing a ‘lab-on-a-chip‘ device containing all the requisite analytical tools a doctor needs to determine your risk of illness. Through a technique known as liquid biopsy, a doctor can analyze samples from your bodily fluids on the chip. This approach is less intrusive and instantaneous compared to a traditional biopsy where a lab can take days, if not weeks, to analyze results.

Current and Future developments

According to Dr. Stolovitzky, producing the chip is relatively inexpensive, but the goal is to make it universally available – delivering healthcare to those in some of the poorest parts of the world.

In the next five years, however, expect it to be used by physicians here in the U.S. where rates of cancer and age-related diseases have only increased and at a heavy economic cost. In 2014, cancer treatment cost the U.S. $88bln and according to one study, a third of cancer survivors aged 18 to 64 incurred debt as a result of their treatment, with 55% owing ≥ $10,000 and 3% having declared bankruptcy. If we are to change the incident rate and cost of cancer, nanomedicine offers the most hope.

Medicine without medicine?

If Dr.Stolovitzky’s team are successful, a world where prediction and early treatment of our most significant diseases, is a real prospect. Now that is an endpoint I can get behind (with a huge smile on my face).

As always, pushing for health.