Bioinformatics, genomics, personalized medicine, oh my! While each borders on the miraculous, and combined they radically change medicine as we know it, these terms tend to sound like mere buzz words to most people. To confuse matters more, the term bioinformatics is rarely heard in the U.S. and a few other countries. So, while these three terms sound like buzz words, they aren’t all buzzing at the same volume around the world. No wonder there’s so much confusion.
First to clarify what each of these terms mean so that we can see how they fit together, and understand what this means to our health and longevity:
Informatics is the science of processing data, a.k.a information science. Surprisingly if you possess a university degree in Informatics, employers in the U.S. will be largely mystified as to what that means you can do, while employers based in Canada or Europe will be delighted that you applied. In the U.S. the translation for Informatics, or information science, is Computer Science, which is not to be confused with Computer Engineering. But that’s another story for another day.
Adding the “bio” prefix therefore simply means the science of processing biological data.
Genomics renders a very specific type of biological data, as it is a branch of molecular biology concerned with the understanding and mapping of genomes. A genome is the complete set of genes present in a cell or an entire organism. That’s a huge amount of data when you consider that the human genome has more than 3 billion DNA base pairs. It’s a staggering amount of information that humans have had difficulty wielding, even though nature found a way to pack it all into every cell in the human body.
Personalized medicine is medical care customized to each patient’s genetic makeup. It means bulk, assembly line-like medicine comes to an end, and medicine designed to deliver maximum benefit to the individual becomes the norm. This would eradicate a lot of bad side effects associated with standard treatments now, reduce or eliminate allergic reactions, reduce the cost of healthcare, and reduce patient suffering through more effective treatments.
In order to actually perform personalized medicine, each patient’s genome must first be translated into digital data which is then processed, stored and retrieved as needed. Thus the triple play of genomics, bioinformatics and personalized medicine is necessary. It all sounds so simple yet it is so very complicated.
Even so, this is all very exciting because personalized medicine also presents an almost infinite number of possibilities previously beyond our reach. It mean we can cure diseases once considered incurable, such as cancer. This short video by a cancer clinic explains how that can be done.
This new approach to medicine also presents ample opportunities to treat rare diseases that once were just too costly to research, let alone find a cure. Because of these technologies, we can now research, treat and possibly cure these diseases too. This short video is an example of how that work is done.
While the video above is about an effort in England, it’s important to understand that this work is underway globally and often entails the collaboration of doctors and researchers in countries worldwide. Canada is a leader in this space and Genome Alberta plays a vital role. Here’s one example in the video below on the path to personalized medicine in Canada.
The future looks bright in terms of human health. Personalized medicine is also expected to increase human longevity with a better quality of life in the twilight years. However, to fully realize these potentials everyone needs to support the effort. Now is not the time to slow the momentum towards higher quality healthcare at lower costs and with superior patient outcomes.
After all, the life depending on the success of genomics, bioinformatics, and personalized medicine may very well be your own.