The State of Preventative Medicine

The state of health care medicine is a contentious subject in today’s political climate. Because of this, the practice of preventative medicine has never been more important. Ashley Van Zeeland (MBA ’10), chief technology officer of HLI, a Rady School of Management graduate and neuroscientist, offered the following thoughts on preventative medicine.

Why is it important to speak to the public about the topic of human longevity and preventative medicine?

We are at the precipice of a revolution in medicine, and it is one that will put each of us in the driver’s seat for our own health and well-being. This is an exciting time, but it challenges the way most of us think about approaching health care for ourselves and our family. The model of the physician, who will fix you when you are sick, will be replaced by one in which your physician is a partner who will help keep you well. Technologic advances such as advanced imaging, genomic sequencing, machine learning and non-invasive diagnostics have unlocked a treasure trove of information about our current and future health. When put into an actionable plan, this information holds the promise to reduce health care costs, keep people healthier longer and help families better manage their overall disease risks. However, harnessing and understanding this information is challenging, even for trained physicians. At Human Longevity, Inc. (HLI) we are working to drive this revolution by being the health intelligence partner for physicians, pharmaceutical companies, academic medical centers and patients alike, to utilize the latest medical and technologic advances to improve human health. That is why speaking to the public about these opportunities, and what it will mean for them, is critical to help prepare for this desperately needed disruptive innovation.

What sparked your interest in human longevity and preventative medicine? 

I began my scientific career focused on childhood developmental disorders, like autism and dyslexia, and and how genetics may contribute to abnormal brain development. What I learned was how complex the genetic story really is, and that it is not as simple as the notion that a “bad” gene can lead to the development of a disease. As our understanding of the contribution of genetics to wellness and disease continued to grow, it became clear to me that, by truly understanding the predictive nature of this basic code, we have the opportunity to give everyone – children and adults alike – the best opportunity to maximize their chances for a long and healthy life. Of course we won’t be able to “cure” all diseases, but even providing the opportunity for better disease management and better patient outcomes through genomics is really exciting to work.

What findings have surprised you in your work in human longevity? 

One of the really surprising findings we have uncovered in our work at Human Longevity is the proportion of presumed healthy individuals who have a quiet – but potentially serious – actionable health concern. The Health Nucleus at HLI opened in September of 2015. Since then, we have seen more than 400 clients for a comprehensive medical experience that includes whole genome sequencing, advanced imaging of the brain and body, cardiovascular assessments and other tests. By self-report, nearly all of our clients are “healthy.” However, around 30 percent of our clients have received actionable findings, ranging from early detection of cancers or aneurysms to identification of significant metabolic disease or dysregulation. In these cases, early detection and swift medical follow-up has not only saved lives, but also demonstrates the utility of screening tests in prevention of serious illness. Likewise, our HLI Oncology program has made life-saving discoveries of therapeutic options for patients with advanced cancers which really demonstrated to me the power of using technology-driven insights to help guide medical care.

How can the business and medical fields come together to improve daily lives in terms of preventative medicine, funding and innovation? How do you see this changing in the future? 

In many ways, the business and medical communities are already collaborating on the development and implementation of medical innovations in pursuit of preventive and precision medicine strategies. Large medical institutions are partnering with businesses to create innovative joint ventures to tackle some of these major medical challenges, and there are interesting venture philanthropy models emerging to support the development of needed medical breakthroughs that may not be a fit for traditional venture finance. Overall, the landscape for business and medical partnerships is very dynamic, and I expect to see many more innovative relationships emerge in the next few years.

What role can Rady/Med students play in advancing the fields as they graduate? 

UC San Diego medical and graduate students today are in a great position to help drive the field forward and realize the promise of preventive medicine and extending healthy life. The life sciences, biotechnology and medical care are increasingly multi-disciplinary practices. Being in San Diego provides a great opportunity to learn from, and interact with, experts across multiple domains – from world-class basic science researchers to recognized medical experts and biotechnology business leaders. UC San Diego grads with this broad background and appreciation will be able to find those unique opportunities to partner or innovate and move the field forward in unexpected ways. As a Rady School graduate, I can also say that being able to be conversant and apply concepts across the fields of business, life science and technology is critical to being able to serve as CTO in a highly technical and interdisciplinary company like HLI.

What other industries would be beneficial to link up with for future growth?

Medicine and life science is becoming very data intensive. The scale of data behind each patient will grow by orders of magnitude in the next few years. To successfully harness and utilize this massive amount of data will require close collaboration with data scientists and software engineers. Linking up with more technical fields, and bringing solutions from other domains that face big data challenges, can provide some very exciting avenues for growth.

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