Researchers Use Emerging Technology To Study Human Genome

IBM is working with medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies to help physicians discover correlations between illnesses, therapies, and genetics.

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

October 12, 2004

2 Min Read

DNA is about as personal as you can get. It determines whether you're short or tall, or whether your hair is curly or straight. It also determines if you're susceptible to diseases like cancer or Alzheimer's, and it can influence how well you may respond to certain drug treatments.

Pharmaceutical and medical researchers are using emerging technologies such as complex pattern-recognition algorithms to tap into new and evolving findings about the human genome as they develop new diagnostic tests and treatments that target the molecular profiles of different patient populations. Eventually, health care will evolve "from episodic treatments to presymptom treatment," to provide wellness and preventative care for people who have a high genetic propensity or other high-risk factors for developing a particular illness, predicts Mike Svinte, IBM's VP of information-based medicine.

IBM researchers are working with a number of medical institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and universities to develop technologies that will help physicians, scientists, and researchers discover correlations between illnesses, therapies, and genetics, perhaps even before symptoms of diseases occur in patients. Among the technologies they're focusing on are pattern recognition, data integration, and data mining.

This kind of genetic research is expensive, however. "It cost [U.S. researchers] upward of $1 billion to sequence the first human genome," said Bob Tepper, president of R&D at drugmaker Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., during a recent emerging technologies conference at MIT. And money isn't the only potential roadblock: It can take 10 years or more for a pharmaceutical company to develop a new therapy, and 95% of drug-development projects fail, according to Tepper.

But Tepper's prediction for the future of genetic research is a positive one. Once the cost of genomic-related technologies and testing becomes more affordable, "everyone could have their genomic information on a disk," he said. Having that information available could greatly assist health-care providers in choosing the best therapies for patients based on their unique genetic profiles.

For more coverage of personalized medicine, look for a feature in our Oct. 18 issue.

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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