The missing puzzle piece in personalized medicine

This letter from the editor prefaces Nutrition Business Journal's 2012 Integrative Medicine Issue. It examines genomics and gene sequencing as the final pillar for building personalized medicine. Click here to see this issue's table of contents.

Craig Venter, the biologist-cum-entrepreneur who first sequenced the human genome in a neck-and-neck race with the U.S government, had this exchange with comedian Stephen Colbert back in 2007. Colbert: “What made you think you could do a better job with life and genetics than God?” Venter: “We had computers.”

Earlier in that segment, Venter spoke of genomics as a true harbinger of a preventative paradigm in medicine and of course he was right, but perhaps not entirely. As we stand on the cusp of another new paradigm in medicine—personalization—the secret might actually live in a thicker sauce. While genomics can begin the codework of parsing hardware from software, of parsing disease cues from our biological predisposition and expressive dysfunction throughout life, it’s the three pillars of personalized medicine—genomics, diagnostics, lifestyle—in complement that promise to build a healthy building. You need all of them talking to each other to really get somewhere.

The money's in sequencing

While nutrition has an obvious role to play in the construction of this healthier structure, it’s genomics that continues to drive progress right now. Take the X Prize, a $10 million contest underway to sequence the genomes of 100 centenarians inside of a month. George Church of Harvard Medical School is the latest to enter the fray with his colleagues from Harvard’s Wyss Institute. Church is also co-founder at Knome, a software player for rapidly interpreting genetic information and the manufacturer behind KnoSys, a $125K supercomputer sold into hospitals to run this software.

Then take Life Technologies, the company behind Ion Torrent’s proton system, a scalable benchtop sequencer billed as the great genomic democratizer, capable of sequencing a full human genome in just a few hours for $1K. This puts the many clues of genetics inside the insurance paradigm and inside the toolkits of clinicians. Speaking to Bio-IT World about Ion Torrent’s entry into the X Prize race, CEO Jonathan Rothberg said: “It would have cost $100 million and taken 33 years to meet this challenge when the competition was announced in 2006. Semiconductor technology is transforming sequencing just as it has transformed every other industry it’s touched by driving research to ultimately improve health.”

Buckle your seatbelts, folks. Personalized medicine is fluid and on a fast curve. As genomics get more affordable, expect the metabolic diagnostics and lifestyle therapeutics—including dietary supplements—to follow in line.

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