Health and algo-treating: Doctors now using code to deal with human body

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February 27, 2017 4:00 AM

There was a time when best coding could do was create security systems, games and computer software. While all that is still possible, coding has moved beyond the realm of computers.

security systems, games, computer software, biology, Targeted medicine, pharma market, IBM, oncologists, biopacemaker, medical technologyThere was a time when best coding could do was create security systems, games and computer software. While all that is still possible, coding has moved beyond the realm of computers.

There was a time when best coding could do was create security systems, games and computer software. While all that is still possible, coding has moved beyond the realm of computers. First, it was algotrading, where codes are used to set trades to generate profits at a speed that is impossible for humans to match, but now it is being used for a more complex variety of equations to find behaviour patterns. Last year, a team of scientists created an algorithm named PAWS to track behaviour of poachers and avoid incidences of poaching. But that is not all, algorithms are increasingly being used to go beyond behavioural science and are now being experimented in the world of biology. Although the human body doesn’t work in binary codes as humans do, given the permutations and combinations that experiments require, it is apparent that algos can find a way to fit in the biotech world and would be used more once we can find answers to how the human body and genes work.

Targeted medicine
One of the best examples of this has come from Watson Oncology––another iteration of IBM’s cognitive and deep learning AI system. While Watson was earlier used for simply assisting doctors as a reference subject, it has learnt a lot over the past few years. Originally starting just as a paramedic, Watson has evolved from being a help source or a Google for doctors to a system that can not only detect cancers, but also provide medicine according to an individual’s needs. Meanwhile, it has gotten better at detection, with a report from a double validation study verifying that Watson accurately matched an oncologist’s advice 99% of the time.

Cancer as a code
But the Big Blue is not the only company investing in the study of science, last year computer major Microsoft also ventured in the field, creating something much more advanced than Watson for now. So, while the targeted medicine therapy is something that IBM was doing with Watson Oncology project, Microsoft launched project “Moonshot” aimed at creating a programmable cell to target cancer. One of the first initiatives undertaken by Microsoft in this field has two parts. One part of the research deals with machine learning to study the effect of medicines on cancer according to each body type, the other involves treating cancer as a computer code. The project, Microsoft hopes, would help the company create programmable biological cells that would restructure themselves as cancer evolves. So, one can think of it as an advanced computer security system which evolves itself when protecting from a virus, i.e, if the compute requires a spam filter, it can as one or otherwise take the shape of an anti-malware.

The biopacemaker
Microsoft would make you wonder about mutation, but that is not all there is to coding. The thing about technology is that it evolves beyond one company’s or a person’s thinking. Turning to the more bizarre, scientists have also been able to create a biological pacemaker, that can function as per your heart. While pacemakers are common, companies, despite a huge amount of research have not been able to create a biological one until now. Given their history, that is not surprising. Research started on these devices way back in 1889 when John Alexander MacWilliam reported in the British Medical Journal that the beating of the heart could be regularised by electrical impulses, but it wasn’t until the 1958 that the first wearable pacemaker was successfully implanted in a human.

But scientists at the University of Toronto recently found a new way to the heart. In creating the first biological pacemaker, the scientists from the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University Health Network in Canada used stem cells. The biological pacemaker eliminates all those problems as it functions as the heart wants it to. Though the research has only been done on rats, hopefully, it won’t take as long as earlier to conduct the first human trials.

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Although genetics and coding should have become one long time ago, a computer—more important, an intelligent one—could cover years of research in a week. But what has stopped is our understanding of human anatomy. As we cover that part of research, we will see more algorithms seeping into biology and more research being covered under coding, which will provide a way to more medicines and breakthroughs. But given that we have broken ice on the understanding part, to some extent, a well-coded biotech future is something that is not far away. Prepare to be transformed.

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