Can we be better at diagnosing and preventing illnesses?
Dr. David Agus, author of "The End of Illness" and oncologist for the late Steve Jobs, says not only can we do better, but we can do it through changing the way we analyze the human body and using more advanced technologies. After spending years conducting research and clinical studies at various medical centers across the country, Agus wrote his book as a guide to how we can personalize health care.
Together, "Nightline" and Dr. Agus developed a medical "lab of the future" -- a group of advanced machines, tests and technologies Agus says could help slow the onset of illness or even prevent some diseases entirely.
Dr. Agus offers a timeline for when he suggests these devices and tests will likely be standard in medicine – some even in your homes – in the next decade. His theory is that we should be proactive, not reactive about our health. To do this, the future of medicine must become personalized.
It remains to be seen if the following practices will be implemented at doctors' offices and hospitals on a wider scale, though some are used today. Dr. Agus also recommends that you consult your physician before undergoing certain tests.
|2012: Full Body Scan|
The PET full body scan is a CATScan of your entire body, and uses a computer system to generate 3-D X-rays of your insides.
The doughnut-looking machine essentially looks at three dimensional images of a body. Imagine a view of your body, slice by slice, as if you are looking down through it from the top of your head. The body scan shows the heart, liver, spine, lungs, kidneys, trachea, muscles, arteries -- and can detect tumors, nodules, calcifications and other irregularities. It also shows changes in bodily functions that can indicate the presence of certain diseases.
While this type of scan has existed for a while, it is usually reserved for patiants with advanced illnesses, such as cancer. Dr. Agus says the scan could be better utilized to detect disease early on, and it is helpful to compare body scans year over year to indentify future conditions.
However, one of the reasons PET scans aren't a more regular form a treatment is the scan exposes your body to radiation, which can potentially lead to other serious problems. Other critics of PET scans say the scans can lead to false positives or turn up benign issues that otherwise wouldn't have affected the patient's life span.
Not to mention the scans are expensive -- they are not covered by insurance and can cost upwards of $1,300.
|2014: Navigenics Test|
The Navigenics Test, developed by Dr. Agus, analyzes your DNA for genetic risk markers associated with 40 different types of diseases and the reaction your body might have to certain medications used in treatment of those diseases. It provides insight into your genes.
Using a test tube of saliva, the test can detect markers for Alzheimer's, multiple types of cancer, celiac disease, lupus, heart disease, obesity and several others. For a full list, visit the Navigenics website here: http://www.navigenics.com/
This test is not a crystal ball into the future of your health, but can provide a guide to your predispositions to certain conditions so you can focus on slowing down their progression, Dr. Agus said. The test also compares your risk to hundreds of thousands of other people.
|2015: Handheld Ultrasounds|
Handheld ultrasounds are cropping up in more emergency rooms and ambulances, but Dr. Agus believes they should be a standard device in medical care.
Small enough to fit in a doctor's lab coat pocket, handheld ultrasounds can provide immediate answers to whether a patient is bleeding internally, has an intestinal blockage, a weak heart beat or a host of other trauma. These devices can be especially helpful to emergency room doctors and first responders who have to make decisions quickly and accurately.
While the FDA is has cleared a few these devices, including one produced by Siemens called the ACUSON P10, Dr. Agus said he expects the device to become a staple in hospitals and ambulances nationwide in the next 3-5 years.
|2017: DNA Sequencing Machine|
Using genome mapping for medical care could one day produce individualized treatment plans for cancer therapy, Dr. Agus said.
The DNA sequencing machine, the Personal Genome Machine (PGM), "reads" your DNA and identifies gene mutations that your body has inherited or accumulated over time -- an example being too much exposure to cigarette smoke.
Another benefit to DNA sequencing is matching your body to a specific combination of drug treatment therapies that it can be used to best fight a given disease.
Biotechnology company Life Technologies Corp. developed this DNA sequencing machine, announcing last week that they expect to deliver it in about a year. The PGM is currently used in clinical trials, and has not yet been reviewed by the FDA.
This innovate technology also plays a key role in an outbreak situation. The Personal Genome Machine was used to find the cause of the E. coli outbreak in Germany last summer, making an answer available in record time and no doubt saving many lives.
Dr. Agus said he expects this instrument to be a standard device in the medical profession within the next decade.
|2019: Proteomics Touch Table|
Taking DNA mapping into an even deeper level, Dr. Agus said he uses a Proteomics Touch Table regularly in his research.
Proteomics refers to proteins expressed in a single strand of DNA -- proteins that can be examined from a single drop of blood (imagine separating a drop of blood into tens of thousands of pieces and taking a look).
The Proteomics Touch Table is a supercomputer that is used to visualize data from that blood sample, Dr. Agus said. The supercomputer can create a 60,000 megapixel image of a drop of blood and project it onto a large touch screen, which allows the researcher to use their fingers to zoom in on protein sequences.
The supercomputer can then compare the protein sequence of one patient with an unknown condition, to the protein sequence of another patient with a known condition, such as cancer, and see how the two are different or similar.
A researcher can also use the supercomputer to compare how one patient reacted to a certain combination of drugs, and see if that combination be replicated for someone else with a similar condition.
|2022: Annual Exam Experience|
What if you could use the power of Google to monitor and predict the next epidemic?
In his book, Dr. Agus talks about how in 2008 Google predicted a flu outbreak three weeks before the Centers for Disease Control. As more people worldwide developed flu symptoms or worried about getting the flu, searches for "fever," "chill" and "flu" skyrocketed. A database of those search inquires eventually became Google Flu Trends, which monitors search terms for flu symptoms across the globe.
Dr. Agus says we can learn from Google's search engine technology to develop a "global melting pot of health data," making it easy for researchers to search for and study information in chunks, and then develop solutions.
The "global health database" would start with one patient's blood sample and build from there. Your blood could be correlated with your medical history, but at the same time, your clinical information and results of the Proteomics test will help populate a growing database.