Your Genetic Avatar Could Help Doctors Craft Custom Health Care

Now that we can sequence genomes, doctors now have enough complex genetic information to know what ailments you might encounter in the future and how best to treat them. The IT Future of Medicine project would help docs tailor care for individuals using genetically identical “virtual patients.”


Personalized medicine–the practice of treating patients based on their genetic makeup–has been a dream of the medical community ever since the human genome was sequenced. But the reality is that most doctors aren’t equipped to sift through the mounds of data that come along with treating each patient using individually customized protocols. That’s why a group of 25 academic institutions and industrial partners are working together on the IT Future of Medicine project, an initiative that aims to make personalized medicine more manageable.

The 10-year, pan-European program aims to create “virtual patients,” or mathematical models of individuals that can predict everything from the likelihood of certain ailments to the best treatment options for various diseases. According to Medicalxpress, the models will also allow doctors to see what would happen to patients in different scenarios–for example, the models could predict what might happen to a patient taking a certain blood pressure medication if they start pumping iron every day of the week.

“[The initiative] will make general models of human pathways, tissues, diseases and ultimately
of the human as a whole. These models will then be used to identify
personalised prevention and therapy schedules, and the side effects of
drugs,” explained Professor Hans Westerhoff, one of the project leaders, in a statement. “The models will be there to help diagnose a particular problem and
provide solutions. Obviously this would need to be done in conjunction
with a person’s GP depending on the gravity of the situation.”

Don’t expect to see your doctor analyzing you with help from a computational model of your genetic and clinical background anytime soon, though. There will need to be major developments in techniques for acquiring, evaluating, storing, and processing mathematical models of patient data before the virtual patient system can become a reality. But when virtual patient technology eventually does become common–say, 10 years down the line–you may never have to worry about nasty drug side effects again (or at least you’ll know when they’re going to happen).

[Image: Flickr user bamakodaker]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.