- For Researchers
- For Biospecimen Contributors
- For Patients
- Human Biospecimens
March 7, 2019
By Christopher Ianelli, MD, PhD, iSpecimen Founder and CEO
It’s an exhilarating time to be in health care and medicine. With so many breakthroughs occurring in genetics, in technology, and in the laboratory, the possibilities are enormous.
Breakthroughs can always be traced back to research, and much of medical research today stands or falls on the availability of specific human biospecimens. For decades, researchers have invested too much time, money, and effort in obtaining the specimens they need for their work. A lot of important research has been held back, or has never occurred, because of researchers’ difficulty of procuring a sufficient quantity of high-quality specimens.
At iSpecimen, we set out to streamline the procurement process, connecting researchers who need specific specimens with the biorepositories and patients that can supply them, facilitated by an online platform called the iSpecimen Marketplace. As you may have seen, our researcher and supplier populations on the Marketplacehave more than doubled yearly since it was introduced in mid-2017. The Marketplace is an important transformation embodying our commitment to fostering medical progress.
When asked which transformations and trends in health care and medicine are most exciting – I could likely list hundreds—I opted to share these top five with you (excluding the iSpecimen Marketplace, of course).
TRANSFORMATION #1: In silico trials
Pharma companies will harness the power of AI and big data to run more powerful in silico trials– faster and potentially more revealing than standard clinical trials – to discover new drugs. Instead of using live human subjects, these trials will crunch existing data describing medical histories, genetics, biochemical pathways, and previously established drug/disease responses to predict the effectiveness of new therapies.
Prediction: In silico trials will more effectively improve clinical trial design and perhaps start supplanting a subset of clinical trials.
TRANSFORMATION #2: Patient control
Why don’t patients control their own health information? They will. As we’ve seen with the innovative Blue Button project, patients will increasingly access, acquire, consolidate and leverage their own medical records. Companies will create applications that enable patients to understand and work with their data, and blend it with other data streams, such as fitness tracking and diet apps. Also enhancing patient control are new companies giving consumers full control over their genetic data instead of ceding control to the sequencer, which may go and sell/share the data, de-identified or not. Nebula Genetics, for example, lets consumers keep their data private (using blockchain) or get rewards by selectively sharing it directly with researchers. If they share, they receive insights back from the researchers.
Prediction: Patients will own their data, giving them more autonomy and control over how and where their information is used.
TRANSFORMATION #3: Cell therapy
This one’s giving hope to a lot of people, though it’s early days. CAR-T therapy, as just one type of cell therapy, involves the immune system in fighting cancer. Clinicians reengineer a patient’s unique disease-fighting cells to better identify and attack cancer cells. White blood (“T”) cells are removed from the patient’s body, modified to sprout chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), and reinjected into the body. The new receptors latch onto a specific antigen on the patient’s tumor cells and kill them.
Prediction: Patient’s immune cells will be reengineered to optimize and/or unblock their ability to defeat cancer and ameliorate other conditions.
TRANSFORMATION #4: The previously illicit drug
Substances once stigmatized as drugs of abuse – including marijuana, ecstasy and ketamine– are demonstrating significant therapeutic value, especially in psychology (depression, PTSD) and in central nervous system diseases (e.g., epilepsy). This is good to see.
Prediction: Party drugs become serious medicine.
TRANSFORMATION #5: Precision medicine
More powerful computers processing greater volumes of patient data will yield greater numbers of biomarkers enabling more precise targeting of disease. As we’ve seen in many diseases – breast cancer most prominently – there are surprisingly numerous variations within the class. Even in such a common disease category, every patient effectively suffers a rare disease of her own. Thus, medicine will increasingly treat the individual as an N of 1 (a person with a unique disease) instead of an N of N.
Prediction: Precision medicine hits the mainstream.
As a company committed to innovation and advancing medical progress by connecting researchers with the biospecimens and patients they need – whether biofluids, tissue, or cells – iSpecimen potentially plays a role in all of these transformations.
In many cases, so do you. Thank you, and let’s keep the miracles coming.
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