CARLSBAD, Calif.—A new technology, being created in San Diego, will likely change the face of health care, according to scientists.
Life Technologies, based in Carlsbad, recently unveiled its Personal Genome Machine, a piece of equipment the size of a copy machine that maps the genome.
"A genome codes for everything else going on in your body so it's really the set of instructions, the book that tells the rest of the body what to do," said Mark Stevenson, president and COO of Life Technologies.
Stevenson discussed the advances in genomics with FOX 5 during a convention.
"You would have needed a factory floor of maybe 300 instruments to do what we do in this small machine," said Stevenson. "When the first genome was done nearly 10 years ago, it took 300 systems and several million dollars and a worldwide effort to do it. Today that single instrument can do a genome in about two weeks for about $10,000."
"We now have technology where we measure our genome when we're born but you can also measure your genome over the lifetime and see what changes have occurred from cancer or other environmental impacts," said Stevenson.
What's happening inside the lab is having a big on the outside. Scientists predict mapping the human genome will change the face of health care.
"The greatest expectations are going to be learning what you're at risk for in the future," said Dr. Paul Bernstein, Kaiser Permanente Medical Director.
Genomics are in use right now in health care, but only on a surface level. Doctors predict the more advanced understanding the human genome becomes, the better they'll be able to personalize medicine.
"We can have you come in and tell you this is what you need to worry about in your future in terms of health problems and basically give you a prescription to prevent that," said Dr. Bernstein.
"What's important to keep in mind is that at the moment our treatment options in health care are 'best guesses,' 'informed guesses' and then you get a treatment. By really having a sequencing of the human genome you can prevent death unnecessarily or make the wrong decisions regarding treatment," said Stevenson.
Roughly 50 people, including Stevenson, have had their genome tested. The cost currently is right around $10,000, but scientists estimate those costs will come down as the technology advances.
"The vision we see is today you would go in and perhaps have a scan of the tumor and be able to look at the form of the tumor from the outside. In the future you'll be actually able to zoom in and analyze the DNA level of the cancer. Then we can see the alterations that the cancer has caused in the genes and then give the right drug at the right time to that patient," said Stevenson.
He and others admit, once genome testing is a regular procedure, significant changes will have to be made regarding health insurance, coverage, privacy and FDA regulations.
"We're just at that tipping point where the technology is allowing us to think about these future questions of how it will get adopted, including what are the ethical issues as well as regulatory issues. I don't think technology will be a barrier in the future, we're really on a path already at this tipping point," said Stevenson.