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The Promise Of Personalized Medicine

October 11, 2004

A new technology developed by scientists at IBM could bring the promise of personalized medicine one step closer to reality.

Using a basic computer language, the researchers created a “smart” DNA stream that contains a patient’s entire medical record, according to a report in the Oct. 11 print edition of the Journal of Proteome Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society. The report was published online July 22.

With the advent of the genomic revolution, scientists are avidly seeking correlations between human disease and the architecture of individual genes. Parsing this huge amount of data could eventually lead to “personalized medicine,” some researchers say, allowing doctors to prescribe the right drug at the right dose for the right person, based on unique variations in their DNA.

But to achieve this potential, scientists need a way to store and efficiently transmit whole sequences of patient DNA with built-in privacy – a hurdle that has yet to be overcome, according to the authors.

Enter IBM’s Genomic Messaging System (GMS). GMS provides a basic computer language that can be inserted into DNA sequences to bridge the gap between patient medical records and genetic information, says lead author of the paper, Barry Robson, Ph.D., a chemist at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.

The stream of information transmitted is basically a “smart” DNA sequence containing a patient’s entire medical record in compressed form as well as genetic information. The DNA stream could potentially even house images like MRIs and X-rays.

Such a universal medical record could help doctors create individualized prescriptions and treatment regimens, precisely tailored for each patient, Robson predicts. Also in earlier research, Robson and his coworkers demonstrated their system’s ability to mine patient data for interesting correlations, such as the connection between a pancreatitis disease and a scorpion bite.

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