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Big data, AI, and personalised medicine: scientists reveal bold vision to revolutionise healthcare

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A team of scientists have set out a bold vision for precision approaches to understanding, preventing, and treating diseases, driven by revolutionary technologies and new collaborations between researchers and other health professionals.

Writing in Frontiers in Science, internationally renowned authors – led by Prof Michel Goldman, recipient of the Blaise Pascal Medal 2024 for his exceptional contributions to immunology and healthcare innovation, and leading microbiologist Prof Philippe Sansonetti from the Institut Pasteur and Collège de France – build on the many lessons of Covid-19, from strategies for radically faster vaccine development to use of big data and digital medicine.

“The Covid-19 pandemic will have profound, long-lasting impacts on the anticipation of risk, practice of medicine, and the management of healthcare,” said Goldman, who is President and founder of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Innovation in Healthcare (I3H) at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and former Executive Director of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).

“It demonstrated the importance of collaboration across sectors and disciplines to develop new solutions for major public health threats, and the power of artificial intelligence and digital tools for the advancement of medicine.”

Changing the paradigm 

To overcome Covid-19, the world needed to take a radically different approach to care – and scientists innovated to make this happen.

Nine per cent more health-related articles were published worldwide than expected in 2020-22, reflecting scientists’ search for tools to solve the problems of the pandemic, which ultimately went far beyond the treatment of infectious diseases.

As there were initially no vaccines to control transmission, non-pharmaceutical interventions like lockdowns, planned using large-scale mathematical modelling were needed.

Video calls ensured patients could speak to a doctor without risking catching the virus, while insights from big data were used to identify vulnerable patients and target treatments.

Goldman and colleagues say that these are innovations in medicine – personalised, taking advantage of big data and new technology – that we should use to design the future of healthcare and public health.

“Personalised medicine delivers the right treatment to the right patient at the right time,” said Sansonetti.

“It will depend on in-depth characterisation of both the genetic make-up of the affected individual and the molecular mechanisms of the disease. A patient’s way of life and environment will also be taken into consideration.”

Systems medicine could also enable more effective care, as it “exploits large quantities of different kinds of data, gathered through different sources, to generate highly precise diagnosis, prognosis, and therapeutic options,” explained Sansonetti.

For instance, it could help identify pre-existing drugs which we already know are safe that can be quickly repurposed to treat new diseases.

Meanwhile, digital health can take medicine to the individual. Telehealth can make it easier for patients to consult with a medical professional, while wearable monitors allow for at-home management of some conditions, which is associated with better outcomes.

A roadmap for healthcare 

However, the scientists stress that a lot of work needs to be done to make this vision a reality.

The necessary conditions for this medicine of the future are not equally available worldwide: for instance, in some places, the technology for digital health or the tests necessary for personalised medicine are less available.

For systems medicine to work effectively and safely, AI applications need to be more transparent, and must be carefully managed to ensure patient privacy and avoid bias.

There is also an urgent need to implement a framework for funding and research which supports the kind of interdisciplinary work that drove innovation during the pandemic. Goldman and colleagues lay out what this could look like, and what we need to tackle first.

The greatest likely challenges of the future, antimicrobial resistance and zoonotic illnesses that jump from animals to humans, will need to be addressed by scientists and clinicians from many disciplines working together. This cooperation should be enabled now, by encouraging interdisciplinary studies and collaboration, to build healthcare that can overcome these future challenges.

“As we navigate the complexities of the post-Covid era, we must foster multidisciplinary collaborations that transcend traditional boundaries, encompassing molecular, clinical, and social determinants of health,” concluded Dr Giuseppe Remuzzi, director of the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri and senior author of an editorial commentary on the article.

“This very timely article is a statement of intent – a testament to the resilience and adaptability of science to address forthcoming public health challenges.”

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