ITFoM: an IT revolution for health

ITFoM: an IT revolution for health

May 3, 2011

The European Future Technologies (FET) Conference and Exhibition 2011 in Budapest on 4th May 2011 will mark the official launch of the futuristic FET Flagship Initiatives by Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the European Digital Agenda. FET Flagships are large-scale, science-driven and mission oriented initiatives that aim to achieve visionary technological goals. The scale of ambition will be over 10 years of coordinated effort, with a budget of up to one billion Euros for each of two Flagships. To prepare the launch of the FET Flagships, six Pilot Actions will be funded with 1.5 million Euros each for a 12-month period starting in May 2011; in the second half of 2012, two of the Pilots will be selected and launched as full FET Flagship Initiatives in 2013. As one of the six Pilot Actions, the Information Technology Future of Medicine (ITFoM) project brings together 26 partners and 20 associated members including academic institutes and private companies from 15 different countries. “They are like The Human Genome projects in which we participated”, says Hans Lehrach, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics and The Dahlem Centre for Genome Research and Medical Systems Biology in Berlin, Germany. Professor Lehrach is coordinator of the shortlisted ITFoM project, which aims to revolutionise our health care system. iPRI is a one partner within this consortium of excellence responsible for delivering the relevant public health context.

In the past, innovation in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and computing has been primarily driven by the requirements of “large” physics and a broad spectrum of commercial applications such as entertainment; medicine has played a relatively minor role. This, however, is set to change as the growing demands of data-rich, individualised medicine are likely to surpass those of all other ICT development fields. As data-intensive analysis and computer intensive modeling become common clinical practice, ICT capacity and organisation will become key limiting factors in medicine; this will result in a shift of resources from personnel-intensive to ICT-intensive applications. Clinical needs will be the driving force behind future ICT innovation.

Data-rich, individualised medicine poses unprecedented challenges for ICT – in terms of hardware, storage and communication. Making personalised medicine a reality will thus require fundamental advances in the computational sciences. It is with this in mind that ITFoM brings together world leading research groups from across Europe and beyond. ITFoM proposes a medicine based on computer models (‘virtual patients’) derived from molecular, physiological, anatomical and environmental data generated on every individual patients. These ‘virtual patients’ will then be used to identify individually optimised prevention/therapy schedules, minimising potential side effects of treatment regimes.

To develop this ICT-driven medicine of the future, ITFoM will prepare for the amalgamation of four major areas:

  • The first is medicine itself – from specimen analysis and diagnosis provision to clinical practice and patient consent;
  • The second concerns analytical techniques, covering functional genomics and imaging technology analyses on a routine basis;
  • The third focuses on integration, developing tools required to incorporate the gathered clinical data, and generated analytical data into models that will inform relevant health providers;
  • The fourth area involves the ICT developments required to tackle the immense computational challenges.

This is the first time that the ICT implications of worldwide individualised patient care will be addressed in combination with genomics and medical requirements. Academic groups from a range of research backgrounds will join forces with their industry-based colleagues in making this proposal a reality. These research backgrounds include: exploring the potential of novel computing architectures; probabilistic programming languages; information processing paradigms; mathematical methods to model the complexity of biological systems; statistical machine learning methods to predict probable patient responses to combinations of drugs; and algorithms to search for optimal combinations of complex interacting therapies.

The ultimate goals of ITFoM are twofold:

  • The first goal is to give each patient’s doctor the power to analyse a person‘s human genome at every stage of disease management – through diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. This will require a revolution in ICT technologies so that relevant computing, storage, networking and modeling technologies are developed;
  • The second goal is to enable the connection of high throughput biomolecular characterization and clinical imaging technologies. Beneficiaries of this linkage will include: the patient and their doctor; drug researchers in both the discovery and development phases; epidemiologists attempting to analyse health trends; and policy- and decision-makers developing effective national and EU-wide health policy options and legislation. Enabling this connection will require a revolution in integrated information management and decision making. This constitutes a fundamental transformation of biomedical science – from probability-based and empirical to evidence-based and knowledge-driven.

The project outcomes will enable the prediction of health, disease, therapy and its effects for individual patients and through application in the clinic will change the future of medicine.

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