Flying cars are fascinating. Blockchain is brilliant. Drones are delicious. But all of this exciting technology is worthless if we’re too sick to care about it, right?
The efforts being made in health tech represent the most important innovation work of all. Everything we can achieve and enjoy begins with a healthy body. It’s our most essential human need. And that’s why we’ve made sure some remarkable people from this field will be speaking at Pioneers Festival 2017. People like Rachel Haurwitz and Harry Gandhi.
Haurwitz is doing positive gene editing work that’s poised to make some of the biggest breakthroughs in medical history. Maker of many headlines already, she’ll be presenting the latest possibilities on stage in Vienna. Authoritative and knowledgeable, she’ll speak with the quiet, no-nonsense sense of purpose that’s the mark of a true scientist.
Her work with her company, Caribou, centres on the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology. While the name may sound complicated enough to send you running, the basics aren’t too difficult. ‘Editing’ says it all: It’s the genetic equivalent of cutting and pasting within a document on your word processor.
What does all this mean for you and me? Oh, just a few life-changing possibilities on the disease and mutation prevention front! Not only that: CRISPR-Cas9 can also give us a healthier, more sustainable food supply. While her team works towards human applications in the coming years, they are already putting the tech to real-world use for plants and animals. And they’re doing it in partnership with major corporate partners in DuPont Pioneer and Genus respectively.
“We’re breeding animals that are healthier, and improving their wellbeing,” says Haurwitz. “This is the side that excites me most personally because it’s incredibly exciting and hasn’t been done before. With Genus we’re working on breeding pigs resistant to PRRSv. This is a nasty sickness that makes pigs too sick for food and sees them getting slaughtered needlessly. Farmers in the US are losing millions of dollars because of it.”
As for plants, Haurwitz believes CRISPR-Cas9 will be one of the keys in ensuring the globe’s ever-growing population has access to the proteins it needs. And not only that – the food’s she is working on with DuPont Pioneer is going to taste better too!
“Have you ever bitten into a tomato and been incredibly disappointed?” she asks. “We’ve selected away flavour and other characteristics that make food interesting. Now, we’re not just making hardier plants with improved drought tolerance and disease resistance, but also using gene editing to correct what humans have previously done to them.”
Remember Pioneers Festival 2016, when Dr Ben Hwang introduced the tiny Profusa biosensor? A couple of months ago at Graz University, that little ‘smart gel’ went into clinical use in Europe. This time around we’re giving another biosensor innovator the chance to stuff that could hit the market soon. Namely Medella founder Harry Gandhi, who will demonstrate his company’s glucose-measuring contact lens.
The move towards preventative healthcare is gathering momentum, as technology begins to expose the flaws in the way we currently do things. Gandhi’s a firm believer that taking personal control is the way forward.
“We live in this reactive model of care,” he says. “You go to a doctor only when things go wrong. Preventative medicine means having the data at your fingertips to know what might or might not go wrong, and be able to avoid that symptom.
“But there is a data collection problem. Putting a phone next to your bed to measure sleep, or measuring how many steps you walk, just doesn’t cut it. High quality, clinically valid data that tells a story about our health is very important.”
Medella’s smart contact lens looks set to be one of the solutions. It’s a contact lens in the familiar, vision-correcting sense of the word, but it offers so much more. Namely measurement of tear-based biomarkers – notably glucose.
“Measuring glucose levels rising or dropping is extremely crucial because you can avoid for example the onset of diabetes, avoid strokes and avoid hypoglycemic attacks,” says Gandhi. “It can allow you to avoid the onset of other diseases.”
Harry’s talk at Pioneers Festival 2017 promises to be a broad education into the issues facing preventative healthcare, including his passionate take on the conflicts of interest and incentives in our existing systems. Then, as well as demonstrating his own product live on stage, he’ll give an overview of how a variety of innovations can work together to help make us healthier, live longer and live better.
Long live the health tech pioneers!