Precision Medicine Moves Beyond Cancer

Technology-charged genomic sequencing could be the weapon we need to combat ‘superbugs’

Nearly 15 years after the Human Genome Project provided the first map of our DNA, precision medicine seems poised to deliver on its promises of powerful cancer treatments, diabetes prevention, and much more.

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"WE ARE APPROACHING A CLIFF. IF WE DON'T TAKE STEPS TO SLOW OR STOP DRUG RESISTANCE, WE WILL FALL BACK TO A TIME WHEN SIMPLE INFECTIONS KILLED PEOPLE."


- Michael Bell
MD, Deputy Director of
Healthcare Quality Promotion,
Centers for Disease Control

Building IT infrastructure for the fight
To combat these “superbugs,” researchers are using the latest genomics technologies—in particular next-generation sequencing (NGS) and whole-genome sequencing (WGS)—to pinpoint areas of bacterial resistance and develop new drugs to attack them.

Healthcare CIOs and IT leaders are organizing their infrastructures to accommodate the new workflows demanded by NGS.

These DNA sequencing technologies have been around for more than a decade, but only recently have they evolved enough to sequence large numbers of bacterial genomes, interpret their significance in the context of current and potential drugs, and deliver results in real time.

BACTERIAL INFECTIONS ACCOUNT FOR MORE THAN 13% OF DEATHS WORLDWIDE.


- National Centers for
Biotechnology Information

Technology to match the threat
Genomic sequencing can also identify pathogens that can’t be cultured through known techniques— pathogens that would remain unknown, to the profound detriment of public health. Recent NGS procedures not only differentiate known pathogen strains with incredible precision, but also alert researchers to previously unidentified pathogens, including viruses.

Practical technology is following the research. Software already exists to identify bacterial strains and their resistance profiles, providing comprehensive reports in three minutes on a laptop.

"We don’t want untreatable infections to become common,” said Arjun Srinivasan, MD, the CDC’s Associate Director for Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs, in a CDC release. The CDC’s “plans to combat this include obtaining real-time data about antibiotic use and trends to better understand prescribing practices in doctor’s offices and…hospitals." Getting this real-time data is critical, as is the ability to analyze it quickly and get actionable insights.

NGS and WGS also are invaluable tools for improving diagnostic tests. One example: WGS was used to discover a resistant gene in S. aureus, leading to changes in other types of tests to avoid false-negative results.

Indeed, WGS and NGS could ultimately be established as the only reliable means of pinpointing the root causes of drug resistance. Recent research has identified more than 70 genes associated with antibiotic resistance, meaning that current survey procedures—which typically only analyze small portions of bacterial DNA—could be inherently unreliable.

"THIS GENERATION OF ANALYTICS IS SOLVING FOUNDATIONAL PROBLEMS. AS SOON AS A HEALTH SYSTEM HITS THAT SWEET SPOT WHERE EVERYTHING IS ALIGNED AND THEIR ANALYTICS ARE REALLY HUMMING, WE WILL DRIVE A HUGE PHASE CHANGE IN HEALTHCARE."


- Bob Rogers
Chief Data Scientist, Intel

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