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Issue 18, October/November


FOCUS HEALTH


THE VIRTUAL FUTURE OF HEALTH If the ‘virtual patient’ becomes a reality,


medicine could drastically change the shape of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in future. This is the view of one group of leading academics now putting forward a massive data-intense project to the European Union.


The group believes that medicine could overtake the innovative initiatives that have so far been driven by large physics and entertainment projects, throwing health into the position of the leading development field for ICT.


Leading researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, the Medical University of Graz and a range of other institutes, alongside industry leaders from IBM to Roche (in total 49 participants covering 31 institutes and companies from 20 countries) are working together to create a new virtual patient system which will require heavy compute power, huge amounts of


data storage and new networking, storage and communications abilities across the EU.


The Information Technology Future of Medicine (ITFoM) project is based on the premise that huge amounts of data can now be collected from patients using genomics, and then used for research, diagnostic and other purposes.


“The virtual patient will enable physicians to identify personalised prevention schedules and treatment adapted to each person,” according to director of the Max Planck institute for Molecular Genetics Hans Lehrach.


the entire human. Medical University of Graz Professor Kurt Zatloukal is also championing the project, which has already received 1.5bn euro of funding from the EU and is now being put up for consideration for full support from the Union. He says the sequence of genomics is posing a huge challenge for ICT, but once met, it could make huge changes to the way healthcare is delivered. The challenges before getting this far, however, are huge.


“This project must be ICT driven. It will have huge data requirements and cannot be done using


“It will


revolutionize medicine. We have to switch from personal-intensive medicine, which becomes more and more unaffordable, to computation- intensive medicine.”


A virtual patient will be created using generic models of genetic pathways (sets of interactions that occur between genes), tissues and ultimately


established technology — it is about completely modelling the human body,” Zatloukal said.


The project may not come to fruition for another 10 years, such is the amount of innovation required, but once the ICT requirements are met, the healthcare industry could find costs reduced and healthcare delivery much more personalized.


WATSON: THE VIRTUAL DOCTOR


IBM is already one step ahead of the project for a virtual patient. Its famous computing system Watson, which competed on US game show Jeopardy!, seems to have a medical touch.


Watson has been studying medicine at Columbia University and learning the tricks of voice recognition so it can eventually work as a physician’s assistant.


The idea is that medical staff will soon be able to rely on computing systems such as Watson for simple medical information. The university said it believes this could reduce errors, and the reliance of medical staff on physical memory.


Watson used DeepQA software by IBM for the Jeopardy! Challenge. Now it will use this for health diagnostics. Watson is designed to call on numerous sources for its answers, and will add blogs and other opinion content to learn how human language is used in a more casual sense.


It is now being fed medical journals and textbooks and is now sitting on board exams. It will then be fed patient records so it can team diagnostics with treatments and outcomes, and even procedures.


The first pilot test could be three-to-five years from now with diagnosis 10 years out. Could the next decade then herald a new era of virtual medicine?


Selling a Second Life: In 2008, IBM put its healthcare into Second Life — an aptly titled platform for what it calls its Virtual Healthcare Island. The island was designed to offer visitors an interactive demonstration of IBM’s open-standards- based Health Information Exchange architecture, ranging from personal health records and electronic medical records to home care using technology, health research and development in the laboratory and physician care.


www.datacenterdynamics.com


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