How the digital and medical revolutions are converging to fight ‘future disease’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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In the 2002 film Minority Report, Tom Cruise’s character works to stamp out future crime. That’s just a movie. But in the real world, future victims of illness might use technology to stamp out a future disease before they get sick. At least, that’s what Peter W. Huber, author of the new book The Cure in the Code: How 20th Century Law is Undermining 21st Century Medicine, believes.

Technology has democratized everything. Now, thanks to the internet, people all over the world can communicate and organize on a global level. Medicine has made a similar leap. It is now possible for science to tell you you have a high propensity for contracting a certain disease later in life. But what happens when these two revolutions converge?

“Once you can read your own [molecular] code,” Huber, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, tells me, that has “a democratizing effect on medicine. It lets people know well in advance that they’ve got profiles that put them at risk for this or that.”

This, of course, could have huge political ramifications — especially in a post-internet world where like-minded activists can network and organize. Gaining knowledge about your code, Huber avers, will lead to “patients or groups coalescing and agitating for cures or treatments and so on. It basically lets information out of the body and into the hands of the people who are going to get politically active.”

Clearly, this could empower many future victims to become activists, but Huber warns this will also pose a threat to government bureaucrats (or as he says, it will “terrify the paymasters” and “horrify any doctors.”)

“This predictive power [of medicine] I think will be a very powerful political force because many many of these sort of genetically anchored diseases do not currently have cures,” Huber says. “But if people can find this out in advance, I think we will see more of again exactly what we saw in the 80s and 90s from the gay community which was extraordinarily effective in mobilizing and agitating for a cure and publicizing the issue.”

So why aren’t coalitions forming now? Why aren’t politicians being lobbied to fund the medical research field? If you want to learn more, listen to the live streaming here or download the podcast on iTunes.

(And for a similar conversation, listen to my previous talk with Eric Topol about his book The Creative Destruction of Medicine.)

Katie Howland contributed to this post.

Matt K. Lewis