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Stanford geneticist Michael Snyder—who previously became famous in 2012 for having his genome sequenced and determining he was at risk for type 2 diabetes, then experiencing its onset, and subsequently reversing it through behavior change—has once again done something that illustrates the incredible potential for digital health. He and his colleagues just published the results of a new study demonstrating that fitness tracking wearable tech—the consumer-type that tracks activity level, heart rate, and sleep patterns—can reveal personalized circadian rhythms and track changes in specific environments (like airplane cabins) that, when combined with biosensor information and other medical measurements, helps detect when wearers are falling ill. An example occurred on a recent flight when Snyder’s devices detected that his blood oxygen level did not bounce back after takeoff and also showed he had developed a small fever. Since he had been in a tick habitat he decided to get tested for Lyme disease, which he had contracted. Since he caught it early, he was able to get treatment before the nasty aspects of the illness took hold. Moreover, the devices showed that Snyder’s insulin sensitivity had returned. Other study volunteers also had their insulin sensitivity detected.
At JP Morgan’s big healthcare investing conference in San Francisco last week, Illumina announced a new genome sequencing system that CEO Francis deSouza says will eventually lower the cost to sequence a human genome from about $1,000 today to just $100. He also stated that approximately 500,000 people have been sequenced around the world as of this year. In a blog post comparing the new NovaSeq system with the company’s existing HiSeq system, genomics expert Mick Watson points out that when you send your samples to a facility it takes about 14 days to get your results back. The sequencing time is 3 days and Illumina says it will cut that time down to 40 hours. But as Mick states, “instead of waiting 14 days, you’re waiting 13 days. This might be important in the clinical space, but not for much else.”
In other genomics news, PhD microbiologist Brian Hanley is testing anti-aging gene therapy on himself. A doctor injects copies of a gene into his thighs (along with a strong electrical current to his muscles) with the intent that his body will produce more of a hormone that may increase his strength, stamina, and life span.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, looks back at 2016 research highlights. His post is heavy on genomics and nanopore sequencing. While not named, the examples he provides point to Oxford Nanopore Technologies‘ MinION sequencing device.
Monsanto has entered into an agreement with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to license the new CRISPR-Cpf1 genome editing technology in agriculture. The new system has potential to be a simpler and more precise tool for making targeted improvements in a cell’s DNA when compared to the CRISPR-Cas9 system. Tom Adams, Ph.D., biotechnology lead for Monsanto, stated that “This system offers a technical step-change by presenting new ways to improve crops for farmers and society alike, offering researchers greater flexibility and new capabilities using this emerging technology to improve agriculture.” Monsanto also licensed CRISPR-Cas9 from the Broad Institute.
For two videos that explore the topic of genomics and food security, I recommend the following:
Mick Watson: The MinION: applications in animal health and food security
Richard Resnick: Welcome to the genomic revolution | TED Talk
When it comes to personal use of digital technology, moderation is important. Levi Felix, the founder of Digital Detox, which puts together retreats and camps to help people disconnect from technology and more directly connect with one another, recently passed away at the age of 32.
Follow me on Twitter @Paul_Sonnier for all the news I share each day.
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Creator, Story of Digital Health
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