WHAT WILL THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?
In the future we can envision a world in which many people have their genome sequenced, likely before birth, and epigenomes and a wealth of other information will be commonly used to predict, diagnose, and treat disease (Figure 1). Perhaps most importantly, however, this information will be used to keep people healthy. By tracking activities, diet, and molecular information, an integrative information system will manage each person’s health.
Figure 1. A possible future for personalized medicine. People will have their genome sequences determined before birth. Other detailed measurements will be performed as home tests. Sensors will be used to either continuously or periodically measure our activity and physiology and all of this information will be used to help guide our health care. iPS cells image attribution: “Induction of iPS cells” by Y tambe—Y_tambe’s file. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
What do these developments mean for the future of medicine? Certainly medical students in training today and physicians in the future need to ensure they are well-educated in genomics and bioinformatics so that they can optimally apply the information generated to patient care. Current medical treatment guidelines based on limited information will be seen as hopelessly antiquated. In the future, treatment algorithms for specific diseases may become entirely computer-based, as comprehensive information about the specific patient and her or his disease (including genomic information) is fed into the system and a customized treatment plan is developed. Although much information will still be managed through a physician, the patient will have much more control. Overall, the information-poor manner in which medicine is practiced today will be replaced with an information-rich system that will be more accurate and more predictive. As patients, we will have more control of our medical destiny and that of our children, and this responsibility will be shifted from the physician to ourselves.