Thursday, June 29, 2017

By Sean Hays (CNS, ASU) reporting from the Immunosignature Diagnostics: A Pointed Look at Research in the Biodesign Institute at ASU field trip.

It is possible that a few people missed the question mark at the end of the title of this conference. We are, all of us, posing the question: what, exactly, is the rightful place of science? If we ask it in its most obvious form, what is the proper role for science within our society, then Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute has an answer: solving specific societal problems and providing those things society seems to have indicated it values. What the Biodesign Institute intends to do is identify a core social need, viz. the need to change the paradigm for healthcare provision in America to both lower costs and improve patient outcomes, and then assemble teams from as many disciplines as necessary to develop a single output that can produce the desired social outcome. We were given a firsthand look at this exact project today, and it provides a cogent example of this new mindset in action.

The Biodesign Institute is currently undertaking an ambitious project aimed at producing a device or process that would allow for continuous immunosignature diagnostics, they refer to this project by its much more friendly name: doc-in-a-box. Briefly, doc-in-a-box is an attempt to track an array of blood-borne molecules in an individual over time to develop a baseline signature for that person’s health. Any fluctuations in these molecules would register as an anomaly in the patient’s signature, and could serve as a pre-symptomatic warning of impending disease. The goal is, ultimately, to produce a cheap, easy to use device that could be placed in the patient’s home that could allow for continuous health monitoring, pre-symptomatic diagnosis of disease, and health optimization through lifestyle change.

The six field trip participants were given the opportunity to actually become a part of this incredible effort by donating a drop of blood each to be assayed and added to the team’s database. We be able to go to a website in about two weeks and actually see the mosaic of antibodies present in our systems on Sunday. You can return to this website in a couple of weeks to see an image of the author’s mosaic, which he will post here, for all to see, as soon as it becomes available. The field trip participants are now among a very select group of people who have been given the chance to see this technology in action, and to see their own health from this radically altered perspective. I would say that one can only hope that the institute’s effort will succeed, and that, soon, people all over the world will get the same opportunity, but, having now seen the institute’s inverted approach to science in action, I have more than just hope for their success. The inversion of the investigative pyramid, so that it begins with a holistic understanding of a real social need, and then distributes the various tasks necessary to produce a product that can satisfy that need among the members of an ambitious, interdisciplinary, and incredibly talented team of researchers is both very real, as well as, from the perspective of a researcher in this field, likely to be wildly successful by the new standards that inversion implies.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by yanuar nugroho, merlyna lim. merlyna lim said: Hey baby, what’s your immunosignature? Sean Hays reporting the BioDesign fieldtrip #cspocon [...]