What lies ahead for Health and Well-Being?
If nutrition is one vital aspect of Health and Well-Being, another, more futuristic area, exists in the study of DNA: the hereditary material in all living cells, and the very building blocks of life.
Illumina is the world leader in the study and sequencing of the genome, which is composed of DNA. Its work has helped researchers explore DNA, mapping out genetic variations, and allowing doctors and scientists to begin to unpick the genetic peculiarities associated with various diseases, conditions and drug responses. The potential applications of this are mind-boggling, sitting at the intersection of biology and technology, and suggesting answers to some of the most vital questions of all: what causes a cancer cell to mutate? Where does a disease originate from, and how can we track and trace it? And ultimately, how can medicine be personalised, so that treatments and preventions are tailored to our individual genetic make-up?
In addition to becoming more personalised, companies like Illumina are helping steer medicine towards being more about preventions than cures. Many diseases, including cancers, can be detected by observing alterations in our genes, and so genomics can pre-emptively detect a disposition or susceptibility to a certain disease in a person, allowing them to take evasive measures. Scientists have also been able to build databases of genetic biomarkers associated with rare diseases, allowing rapid diagnoses of patients, in contrasts to the long, drawn-out ‘diagnostic odysseys’ of the past.
For a long time, however, the sequencing of the genome was punishingly expensive, making the technology difficult to scale. Back in 2000, it cost $100 million to sequence a genome, requiring the marshalling of enormous resources. Illumina has been at the forefront of democraticising genetic sequencing, pushing down the cost with constant product iteration. In 2014, it announced a $1,000 genome – 1/100000th the cost of the process less than two decades earlier. Now, Illumina is talking about a $100 sequencing of the genome, vastly expanding the availability of this science and increasing the range of applications, from consumer genetic testing looking at genealogy, to medical uses in neurology, cardiovascular health and diabetes.