YEAR IS 2021, AND ANNIE COLE IS AN ACTIVE, HEALTHY 5-YEAR-OLD, BURSTING
WITH ENERGY AND EXCITEMENT. THE COURSE OF HER LIFE ALREADY HAS BEEN CHANGED
DRAMATICALLY FOR THE BETTER, THANKS TO A NEW KIND OF HEALTH CARE CALLED
PREDICTIVE HEALTH, in which planning for optimal health and longevity begins
at birth and disease is no longer the primary focus.
When Annie was born at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in 2016, her blood was analyzed to screen for literally hundreds of proteins. This analysis gave doctors a picture of her health status and risk for future disease. From her blood sample, they identified the basic generic biomarkers that characterize good health. They also identified deviations from these biomarkers that could signal health problems in years to come.
Baby Annie’s biomarkers indicated some risk of diabetes. She was healthy, her parents were assured, but the predictive health physicians wanted to follow her over the next few years to watch for further signs of diabetes risk. By the time she was 3, it was clear that without intervention, she would develop insulin-dependent diabetes within the next four years. She was put on a regimen of exercise and drugs, which meant that the disease would be prevented. It also meant that Annie would avoid much pain and suffering from diabetes-related complications over her lifetime, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. In fact, her clinicians predicted, she would be able to anticipate a long and healthy old age.
The Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Initiative is transforming the above scenario from futuristic dream to a work in progress. The initiative brings clinicians, scientists, and computer engineers together with experts in health policy, behavioral health, business, law, and bioethics. It takes advantage of recent discoveries in genomics (the DNA sequence of individuals), proteomics (the proteins encoded by genes), bioinformatics (the ability to analyze previously unimaginable amounts of biologic data), and systems biology (computer modeling of all aspects of cellular metabolsim). And its goal is to devise a cost-effective system that will help preserve good health throughout life, both for individuals and for populations as a whole.
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