Reed Magazine November 2004
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Imagining a Brave New Medical World

By Manny Frishberg

In the future doctors will not just study the human body, they will study your body, looking at an individual patient’s condition with a degree of specificity unheard of and, for most people, unimagined until now. Doctors will be able to predict an illness before it is apparent and prescribe treatment designed specifically for the patient. Roger Perlmutter ’73, top research and development executive at the biotech powerhouse Amgen, is one of a handful of biomedical researchers who not only dare to imagine how medicine might be practiced in the future, but are actively engaged in making it a reality.

Perlmutter believes it is systems biology that promises ďan improved understanding of disease pathogenesis that will ultimately lead to preventive approaches.”

Roger Perlmutter

“It will require an enormous change in medical practice,” he explains, ďand the change will completely revolutionize both the therapeutics industry and thinking about human health.”

Systems biology combines the disciplines of biology, information theory, and computer modeling to study living things as working systems rather than as an accumulation of distinct and separate parts. By examining the interactions of DNA, RNA, proteins, cells, tissues, organs, and organisms as a complex hierarchy, Perlmutter predicts that doctors in the coming decades will be practicing a far more personalized form of medicine. Using genetic patterns to predict illnesses before they present themselves, future physicians will be tailoring therapies to fit the person in front of them, instead of having to fit the patient into a recognizable pattern of disease, and will prescribe preventive measures in place of standard remedies.

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Reed Magazine November