Articles, Blog

Stanford’s PHIND center aims to stop illness in its tracks

March 11, 2020

Most of healthcare is still very focused
on after you become ill. We want to change the dialogue and develop the
science around ideally prevention of the illness. Then
when we can’t prevent, at least early detection, so that we can intervene early
for better outcomes. The Precision Health and Integrated
Diagnostics Center, the PHIND Center, is a relatively new effort to try to really
tackle being much more proactive about healthcare. The Precision Health part is, again, the focus on keeping people healthy as
opposed to reacting after they’re already ill. And the integrated
diagnostics part is about integrating multiple sources of information. We want
to fund novel new ideas, bring together scientists from multiple disciplines all
over campus in healthcare and engineering, chemistry, physics psychology, computational sciences, to approach a Precision Health problem. We’re interested in developing
approaches to ultimately detect cancer at the earliest possible stages, so we’re
measuring molecular features that are present in the blood that can give us a
readout on the state of healthy or diseased cells. If we can catch the
hallmarks, the signatures, of early malignancy, at a stage where we can
readily treat it, we stand a far better chance of curing patients, then we want
to roll the clock back on when we can pick this up. We have a cohort of about 200 boys and
girls that we started studying when they were 8 to 10 years old. So, it’s a large
data set that we’re going to be able to then integrate to predict the onset of
depression, the onset of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts in some of
these children. If we can identify what that risk profile looks like then we can
try to develop prevention programs that target those mechanisms that we’re
identifying that we think are going to contribute to the development of
depression and suicidal ideation to change those mechanisms. Diabetes is a huge problem. It’s
estimated to cost the U.S. close to 300 billion dollars each year and what’s
amazing is that nine out of ten people who have pre-diabetes have no idea. So, a big
part of our PHIND project is actually to try and understand exactly what foods
spike their glucose and then come up with some machine learning methods — what that
means is some computer technologies — to be able to understand for that person
what’s causing them to spike, what’s not, and then actually making recommendations.
We’re going to help each person individually according to what is good
for them and to have them avoid what’s actually bad for them. Our hope is that by the time you’re born
we’d know what diseases you’re going to be at risk for. This does not mean that
there still won’t be need for hospitals but the goal will be to keep people
healthy as long as possible by doing more continuous monitoring and earlier
interventions. If the 19th century was about chemistry, and the 20th century was
about physics, the 21st century is for sure about biomedicine. We’re seeing
people from fields that previously hadn’t been that concerned about biology
and medicine looking at and being focused on biomedical problems. The problems that we
confront and want to have impact in with Precision Health are so complex that to
really tackle them effectively we have to bring together people from different
disciplines with complimentary talents in ways that break down these problems
and achieve the solutions that we want to see.

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