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Digital Technology and Genomics Hold Promise for Personalized Medicine


The unlikely intersection between genomics and wireless technology is an emerging trend pointing the way forward for personalized medicine. There are already roughly 10,000 health applications for the iPhone, including the Zeo sleep coach, which uses a headband with sensors to monitor brain waves during sleep, and Airstrip, an application that allows physicians to check the vital signs of their ICU patients in real time from anywhere in the world. Last summer, developers at Illumina used the iPhone software development kit to build a conceptualized application called MyGenome to provide access to a user's complete genomic profile and relevant analysis of their genome.

This ability to combine an individual genome scan with body monitoring sensor technology in a handheld wireless device is right around the corner, argues Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, in the January issue of Science Translational Medicine. "Right now, you can load your genome-wide scan into your iPhone, so that's a good convergence of wireless technology and genomics right there, and it's just the beginning," Topol says. "If you can do continuous blood pressure [readings] and you have genomics that put you at high risk for blood pressure, you might wind up digging deeper, and getting a week of continuous blood pressure [readings]. ... We can try and preempt the disease from ever occurring by staying ahead and getting much more exquisite phenotyping than we could ever dream of in the past."

In addition to tracking vitals, wireless technology that uses imaging combined with genomic data can also serve in a preventive capacity. Topol cites an example wherein physicians could screen women known to have a genetic risk for breast cancer using wireless imaging technology to track any possible tumor growth. "You have women who go for their mammogram every year, but it's not very high resolution. But in the short term you'll be able to see an ultrasound that she would be instructed on how to do herself and be transferred over the Web," he says. "Only the women who have that significant genomic risk would have this tight surveillance, and it could be done every few months instead of every year, so we will be able to diagnose things at the earliest possible time and hopefully prevent them."

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