Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, is widely recognized for many things: as a renowned cardiologist, #1 Most Influential Physician Executive in the United States by Modern Healthcare, “Rock Star of Science” by GQ, author of several books, and the top authority on digital medicine, but who knew he was also a comedian? Topol shared his views with the BIO 2015 keynote luncheon audience in an informative and humorous way.
Using videos and comics, Topol showcased some serious issues in medicine. “It takes 2.6 weeks on average to get an appointment with your primary care physician. Everyone but the doctor will see you now. Fortunately, digital medicine is changing that – the wait is over.”
Due to the acceleration of technology, medicine is transforming from population-based to individual-based. New digital tools, such as wearables and attachments to smart phones, are capable everything from tracking blood pressure from one’s forehead to allowing a mom to monitor her diabetic children through her smart watch. Digital technology is helping to democratize a whole field of medicine.
We’ve come a long way since Dick Tracy’s smart watch debuted in 1931. “We can do things like never before, in a high-def way we couldn’t even conceive could happen,” Topol said. “We are incorporating technology from other industries into healthcare. The pace of innovation is going to continue to accelerate, providing an opportunity for improved health outcomes.”
Topol mentioned the importance of the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) as a way to further revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease with early diagnostic and personalized treatment before being joined on stage by Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
Collins agreed that we have taken “a big step forward” and that initiatives such as the 21st Century Cures “can rev up the engine” of innovation. “There is so much can do better in medicine. There has never more exciting time than now, however it is the toughest time right now in terms of public support.”
Speaking of exciting, before Topol took the stage, former astronaut and CASIS President Greg “Box” Johnson conducted a live interview with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station. Flying over Australia, Kelly talked about the mission to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space, and many of the 400 different scientific experiments such as assessing bone loss, muscle wasting disease, and the effects of radiation. Insights from these experiments in space will help biotechnology to create new and innovative products and improve the health of those of us on earth, and is why Kelly encouraged the biotech industry to collaborate.
When asked what we can hope to learn from these experiments, including a “twin study” in which Kelly and his brother Mark Kelly are participating, Kelly replied “whether or not there is a cliff out there with regards to physiology and, if so, how we can mitigate so we can explore further away from earth than we’ve gone before.”