I’m going to tell you a story.
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A story about you.
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And this story will, in turn, tell you about biomarkers. Ready to read?
The year is 2035. You walk into your local medical clinic and draw blood for a standard blood test.
What could that blood test possibly tell you?
It tells you that your blood pressure is a little high — and that you’ve got a Vitamin C deficiency. Expected. But this blood test doesn’t stop there — nuh-uh, the year is 2035.
And in 2035, blood tests don’t sweat the standard stuff. No, blood tests in 2035 can not only tell you about the changes in physical states — like high blood pressure — in your body but your mental states too. This blood tests can tell you whether you’re suicidal or not with a 97% ACCURACY, or track how a patients Alzheimer's is progressing.
Oh, and forget about 2035. This stuff is being done today, in 2019.
A Little Bit of Perspective
Let me just get this straight with you. A vial of BLOOD can give you information on your MENTAL state. A VIAL OF BLOOD.
Just a century ago, we’d be draining this much blood for no real reason. You might know this as bloodletting. Today, however — that blood is talking to us with some very useful information.
Are YOU excited right now? If you are somehow not — A. You’re a robot, or B. You need to get up right now and do 5 jumping jacks. Maybe a couple of pushups. Maybe punch your fists in the air, WHO KNOWS. Just GET EXCITED. Because this is worth being excited for— for real.
What’s Behind This — And Is It Magic?
Firstly, no — this isn’t magic at hand. I know, I’d also love a bit of wingardium leviosa or abracadabra to turn my blood into a magical stream of information.
There’s no need for magic, however — when your blood is filled with biomarkers.
Remember the whole “get excited” thing I just said? Well, this is what you should be EXCITED for.
Biomarkers Are Indicators Of The Presence or State of Disease
What are biomarkers? (hint: the subtitle ^)
The answer is really simple:
They’re any measurable indicator of the state or presence of a disease or psychological state. Still confused?
Imagine that your body is a car. Like your body, a car has a lot of moving parts and internal functions. A lot. Things constantly can — and do — go wrong. Deflated tires, low gas, electric defects. Just like your body can get fevers, develop cancer or run low on insulin.
Just like a car has warning signals — such as the fuel tank sign to indicate low gas, or the seat belt chime to warn you of an unfastened seatbelt — your body also has certain “warning signals” which indicate if somethings come up in your body.
These warning signals in your body are called biomarkers.
Biomarkers are not super complicated. Not always. Odds are that you probably know of a few biomarkers yourself.
Take your body temperature for one — it’s considered a biomarker. Generally, higher body temperatures can tell you that your body has developed a fever or other illness.
Since biomarkers are essentially an indicator for a change in a state in your body, there’s a pretty wide definition for what actually counts as a biomarker.
A biomarker can range from being a protein, cell, enzyme, molecule to even a gene. It’s anything measurable that can show a correlation in a change in a state in your body.
It’s a simple concept, but the possibilities range wayyy further than just blood pressure levels or temperature.
Today, you can diagnose ovarian cancer by identifying the P53 gene and Matrix metalloproteinases enzymes (MMP’s) in a blood test, or the severity of stress a schizophrenia patient faces by measuring the level of Kynurenic acid in their saliva.
Healthcare Right Now = Reactive.
Healthcare In The Future = Proactive + Preventive.
This is the healthcare system right now:
Feel sick? Go to the doctor. Doctor finds x sickness and diagnoses you. You get needed treatment.
This is what's known as reactive care. Our entire healthcare system is pretty much built like this. The system waits until you’re sick before reacting with help.
This isn’t such a big deal when the systems dealing with something minor, like a fever. But when it comes to big killers— such as cancer, diabetes and even depression (all of which take millions of lives a year)—the time a reactive system takes just doesn’t cut it. Time is everything. Time is life or death.
So what if instead of having a reactive healthcare system, we had one built around being preventive?
Preventive (noun): a medicine or other treatment designed to stop disease or ill health from occurring.
Preventive care sounds awesome, but it’s too expensive and time-costly right now
Preventive care exists right now. People frequently get cancer screening tests, vaccines, and blood tests. But…
Here’s the dealbreaker. All biomarkers and indicators which doctors look for to diagnose medical problems can’t be found in a simple blood test. If you had breast cancer, a fever, diabetes and early-onset Parkinson's there would be no way to diagnose and find all of these in a single test. It would take multiple expensive screenings, visits, and tests + weeks of waiting before getting any word back from the doctor.
The worst part is, that the needed equipment to diagnose you could be missing from your local clinic. Which means you’d have to possibly travel further to larger more centralized establishments like hospitals.
Does that sound ideal to you?
This system is far from ideal. Now, I want you to imagine that the year is 2035 again.
The Future Of Biomarkers And Healthcare
It’s 2035 again. You take an autonomous vehicle to a local decentralized health clinic.
You walk in and automatically have blood, saliva, and other metrics checked. No more than 5 minutes after you’ve walked in, your tests are done. The intelligent agent doctor — which, using Artificial General Intelligence is far beyond human doctors in complexity and intellect — asks you if you’ve got any other concerns.
5 minutes later, the intelligent doctor hands you back multiple diagnoses, all of which have been computed in mere minutes using the mass amount of biomarker data collected from the samples you gave. A prognostic process which would’ve taken weeks, possibly months in 2019 can be done in the time it takes to brew a good coffee in 2035.
The data that biomarkers provide will be a pillar upon which a preventive healthcare system is built on.
Oh, and the 2035 version of you has breast cancer, diabetes, fever and early-onset Parkinson’s. But because of the timely diagnoses and advanced healthcare system you have access too, there’s not much of a reason for you to stress.
Snapback to 2019 again. We’re not quite at that exciting stage yet. But experts and innovators are driving forward to find new, more innovative biomarkers which can help us diagnose and understand diseases that affect us both mentally and physically.
In a smart data-driven future, biomarkers will be the link between our bodies and the intelligent machines we build to help us.
- Biomarkers are measurable indicators of the presence or development of a disease, or change in your body.
- The definition of what counts as a biomarker is pretty big — ranging from genes to proteins and even molecules.
- Our current healthcare system is reactive — it waits for you to get sick. The future of healthcare is a proactive and preventive system, and biomarkers will be integral in providing the data needed for such a system.
Before You Leave!
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