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Personalized medicine: are we ready?

Advances in producing, managing and exploiting huge volumes of data, and knowledge of genetic and molecular alterations associated with disease, have generated huge expectations for personalized medicine. Ethical, technological, social, legal and care-related challenges, however, can be a hurdle to fulfilling these expectations. We'll go over some of the main messages of the first Forum BIB, organized by the Bioinfomatics Barcelona Association (BIB) in collaboration with Biocat and the "la Caixa" Banking Foundation


Who does healthcare data that can help us achieve huge medical milestones belong to? How can we facilitate its use for a positive impact on human health? What role does bioinformatics play in resolving these challenges?

On October 24, the Bioinformatics Barcelona Association (BIB) held its first Forum BIB in collaboration with Biocat and the "la Caixa" Banking Foundation. Representatives from all of the areas involved participated in the forum, including the administration and the private sector, patients' associations, research centers and facilities, and experts in the field. These are some of the messages that came out of the event:


What do we have and what do we still need?

Roderic Guigó, Coordinator of the Bioinformatics and Genomics program at the Center for Genomic Regulation

"Personalized medicine is actually a very old practice. What has changed is that we now have the technology to monitor our genome and predict the disease before its onset and take measures before it manifests. In Spain in general and Catalonia, specifically, the conditions have been ripe for years now to develop a personalized medicine program comparable to those seen in other advanced countries. We have a genome sequencing center, which few countries have; we have experience in storing and handling this data; we have important clinical research being done at our hospitals and highly competitive basic genomic research; and we have a considerable IT industrial fabric. We have all the ingredients to be on the cutting edge. Why haven't we been able to move forward?"


Alfonso Valencia, Director of the Life Sciences Department at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS)

"What do we need for a personalized medicine program on par with those in other countries around us? The BSC is a unique facility. No other comparable center in Europe has the same level of involvement in the life sciences. But you can't keep a racehorse tied up in the stable. Our bioinformatics facilities are ready, but having them ready for years without any large-scale projects doesn't help. In IT, standing still is never a solution, because you very quickly get left behind."


Josep M. Martorell, Deputy Director of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS)

"Personalized medicine is a complicated puzzle with many pieces that, someday, public administrators will have to put together. The puzzle piece that is the hardware is already in place, and it is a three-legged stool: calculating capacity, data storage and the network. We have a reasonably good computational structure and a very good healthcare system, but we have to build bridges between these two systems."



Keep reading the report: From supercomputers to patients. Where is the limit? 

Only 8% of patients are candidates for personalized treatment, and only 5% actually get it. According to the FDA, there are currently only 336 treatments guided by the patient's genomics. What are the legal and ethical limits?

Who and how should lead the challenges faced by personalized medicine? Do we need a system-wide policy?