IBM czar touts info-based medicine opportunities

Information-based medicine is reaching mainstream medical practice faster than expected, according to Dr Joseph Jasinski, the program director of IBM's Healthcare and Life Sciences Institute.

"In the time I've been following healthcare and life sciences, I've never seen so much excitement and opportunity," Jasinski told Australian Biotechnology News this week.

Jasinski was in Australia to talk about some of the latest developments in health and life sciences informatics and information-based medicine -- the use of computerised analysis of clinical and research data and its application to medical practice. "We're starting to see information-based medicine take off a bit faster than we thought it would five years ago," he said.

Jasinski pointed to therapeutics like Herceptin as examples of drugs that targeted specific genetic profiles -- in this case, the genetic profile of the tumour. Other applications include the increasing use of digital imaging technology for diagnosis, biobanking, and electronic medical records.

"All these things are happening, and faster than expected," he said. "The whole world of molecular biology has really become a high-tech business."

According to Jasinski, genomics and proteomics are evolving from basic science into diagnostic tools, and a $1000 genome sequence is probably only 10 years away from reality. "I think there will be absolutely unimpeded progress in high through technologies, and the movement of those technologies into medical care," he said.

Challenges to the implementation of information-based medical processes include the need to understand biological systems, and dealing with large amounts of heterogeneous data.

Jasinski said computational platforms and power were not likely to be limiting factors -- between September and November this year IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer increased its peak performance from 36 teraflops to 31 teraflops.

But the real challenges, he said, are likely to be the political, social and economic changes required to transform healthcare systems globally.

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