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Health Care of the Future

The health care of the future is coming faster than you think. Plans to use implanted microchips to monitor medical information have shown promise, as have experiments using 3-D printers to quickly and cheaply manufacture drugs from the home.

And new advances are happening all the time. The Wall Street Journal reports that scientists at the Genomes Project have succeeded in sequencing the DNA of more than 1,000 people from all over the world. They’re now using that massive database to study the effects of different variations in the sequence, which can affect one’s susceptibility to diseases and response to treatments. In the future, doctors may look at your genome before making a diagnosis:

“We are getting to the point where an individual genome sequence can be a useful part of diagnosis,” said statistical geneticist Gilean McVean at Oxford University in England, who led the effort. “If there is a variation that is present in just one in 100 people, we have found it.” . . .

Armed with the new information, scientists at Oxford in August pinpointed how just a single hereditary variation—no more than one letter of genetic code—can heighten the risk of multiple sclerosis for some people. The same variation also may explain why some drugs that are useful in treating various autoimmune conditions actually make MS patients worse.

The information will also allow scientists to study genetic differences across different regions, which may also prove important in the treatment of diseases:

The many rare mutations identified highlight the differences among people in various parts of the world or even different cities. “The stuff that is rare—present in one in 100 people—in the United Kingdom is different from the stuff at that frequency in Holland or Italy,” Dr. McVean said.

Powerful computers, immense databases, and new techniques for analyzing genetic data are already reshaping the way medicine works, and this trend is only getting stronger.

Complicated, government-run plans like Obamacare may get all the attention, but it is decentralized technological changes like this that will shape the future of healthcare.

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