One of the greatest insights gained in building FOXO is observing how we are entering a new epoch in understanding biology.
In 2019, during the completion of FOXO’s seminal research project – the goal of which was to correlate patterns of methylation at over 800,000 CpG sites along the human epigenome to 131 traditional clinical assays used to assess individual health and wellness in 1,100 individuals – I observed how our Chief Data Scientist changed our research protocol with a new software tool to complete our study.
I will always remember the day when our Chief Data Scientist, Dr. Randall Olson, the data scientist credited with authoring the supervised machine learning language TPOT said, “Hey Jon, there is a new data software tool out there, and while it’s kind of expensive, I think it could really help us complete our research study.” The opportunity to apply the automated machine learning software fundamentally changed our ability to obtain far-reaching conclusions about the science of epigenetics and human biology. I now know that without the machine learning software tool, I had tasked our team with a next-to impossible task, and could hardly expect to obtain the results and insights we did. I observed that the results we obtained, due to low cost micro-array sequencing technology and machine learning, changed the course of our company and will contribute to meaningful new understandings of human biology.
Sure, statements about transformational change in precision diagnostic and therapeutic health have been made before. Like in 2003, when scientists decoded the human genome. But this time is different. Why? Two reasons:
- First, the maturation of DNA sequencing platform technologies capable of producing troves of genomic and epigenomic data at low costs; and
- Second, the emergence of AI and bioinformatic tools that are capable of analyzing the troves of genomic and epigenomic data are now available.
When the first human genome was sequenced in 2003, it took over a decade and cost $3B to complete. Today, a genome can be sequenced in a day at a cost of under $1,000. And with the introduction of new automated machine learning tools, there is a clear case to see why the observation that “this time is different” is in fact true.
In a recent essay by Dr. Doug Cole, someone use education and experience is well qualified to make such a prognostication, he calls this new epoch “The Biological Century.” The essay is an amazing piece that elegantly foretells what the future of precision medicine holds for all of us.
The fact is, transformational change is upon us, and it is certain to unleash a new epoch in precision medicine. Very soon, prescribing the chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin after the discovery of a grapefruit-size tumor in your lower intestine will look barbaric. Cancer is at work inside our bodies long before it emerges in the form of a tumor that blocks our bowels, or causes recognizable pain, that leads to an MRI or biopsy and the awful diagnosis that follows.
Cancer is cellular function gone awry. Seeing cancer in its native molecular form when genetic or epigenetic mechanisms malfunction is the focus of precision diagnostics. Correcting molecular cellular function by modifying genetic or epigenetic mechanisms is the focus of precision medicine. Together, these two disciplines encompass precision medicine and are all but certain to change the course of human health and wellness in a new epoch called The Biological Century.