A Glimpse Into the Future of Health Care: Exponential Medicine 2015

A few weeks into the new year, I find myself contemplating a quote from the American poet Mark Strand, who once said, “The future is always beginning now.” This statement aptly describes the Exponential Medicine conference, better known as xMed, held last November in San Diego, CA. The signature event for any (current or aspiring!) health care futurist, this collection of amazing minds, which includes innovators and entrepreneurs from across the biomedical and technology space, meets annually to “explore and leverage the convergence of fast-moving technologies in the reinvention and future of health and medicine.”

During the unique 4-day session, participants considered health care possibilities and how all of us, collectively, can positively impact the health of our world. Not just health care futurists but all health care leaders can benefit from understanding the disrupters, innovations and/or technologies that lie ahead and planning accordingly. A few hot topics (out of MANY) from the meeting that we believe will have some traction in 2016 are highlighted below.

Sensors—Here, There and Every “Wear”
Wearables, implantables, ingestibles, absorbables and many other types of “-bles” continue to pervade the health care industry. At xMed, a main focus of discussion was how the data from these devices are being used and incorporated into other areas of health care.

Companies such as Lark, a consumer electronics company that makes wearable wellness monitors, are using information from sensors to help people with issues such as weight loss, wellness and monitoring chronic disease. Lark’s CEO and Founder Julia Hu commented that this new technology is “putting a personal health team in everyone’s pocket” via apps. This is just one example of many companies out there aggregating data from multiple sources and helping health care consumers take control of their health.

Additionally, several start-up companies pitched their efforts to use these data to improve health during some breakout sessions that were evaluated and judged for “outstanding pitch,” the “one to watch,” “convergence,” and “most disruptive” MEDy awards (designed to recognize companies offering industry-changing innovations). Award winners included Universal Diagnostics (an innovative biomedicine company focused on early detection of cancer) and (offering participants personalized care plans with the help of an online nurse avatar).

Consider how all these data will impact the health care consumers you work with, as they become more invested in and engaged in their own health. What part will you play in their self-monitoring and self-care?

The Genome—The Beginning of Personalized Medicine
When the genome was sequenced over a decade ago, it didn’t take long for its application in health care to be tested. The information from that seminal work has led to projects, applications, business and technology created around the genome. Costs for using this information have decreased significantly, making it much more accessible. A few examples of the genome’s broad application referenced during multiple talks at xMed:

  • The MedSeq Project (part of the Genomes2People research) is working to integrate whole genome sequencing (WGS) into clinical medicine. In generally healthy patients, physicians will use the results of WGS to understand future health risks and inform prevention and surveillance efforts. In patients with family history or symptoms of a disease, the results can be used to investigate particular sets of genes known to be associated with the disease in question.
  • Craig Venter (one of the first to sequence the genome) has long advocated the use of human genome sequencing to transform health care; late last year he launched Health Nucleus, which utilizes WGS analysis (as well as clinical imaging, machine learning, microbiome data, metabolomics, and other medical, social and environmental information) for each patient to provide “the most complete picture of individual health.” At the meeting, Yaron Turpaz, Chief Information Officer of Health Nucleus’s parent company Human Longevity, Inc, stated their goal is to “extend healthy living and move toward prevention.”
  • Genetic editing is being developed, and discussion about the CRISPR technology, which enables adding or changing the sequence of specific genes, was common throughout talks and breakout sessions at xMed.

Microbiome—Your Gut Knows Best
There have been increasing data to suggest your own personal microbiota significantly impacts your health, and with 10-fold more microbes (gut bacteria) than cells in each of us, how could it not? Sg2 featured uBiome during our Disrupters webinar series last year as an example of a company helping consumers make sense of their microbiota and hopefully improve their overall health.

During the xMed conference, many talks included the impact gut bacteria has on one’s health and how, in some ways, understanding your microbiome is a critical part of a full genetic health evaluation (see Health Nucleus example above).

University of California at San Diego leaders believe this is such a major area of research and benefit to the future of medicine that they have launched the UC San Diego Microbiome and Microbial Sciences Initiative. They’ve recruited experts in the field including Rob Knight (cofounder of the American Gut Project). Paul Roben, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation at UCSD, told xMed participants that the microbiome is “the new frontier in medicine.” He also spoke about the impact gut bacteria has on us (including its effects on stress, mental health, autism, cancer and diabetes) and described how more than 100 scientists had signed up to help with the initiative within 24 hours of the official launch. Imagine the impact the knowledge of one’s microbiome could have on mental health, obesity, chronic disease and overall health.

Translating Possibilities Into Action
There was no lack of amazing technology, innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and potential for the future during xMed. If there was one thing lacking, though, it was the practical application and translation of these potential “disrupters” for today’s hospitals and health systems.

Because we spend so much time with all of you, we are aware of excellent examples of organizations that are piloting new technologies, improving people’s health through innovation, and making efforts to disrupt themselves and their markets. We also know that others are planning how they can best embrace innovation and disruption over the next several years. This is where Sg2 can help you translate the wonderful world of the future into today’s practical health care landscape—this is where the fun stuff happens!

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