Towards health 4.0

Obesity, Alzheimers, multi-drug resistant bacteria, allergies, autoimmunity, Ebola and pandemic flu; these are among the health challenges that our society face in the 21st century. The question is: how ready is our healthcare industry in meeting these emerging challenges effectively?

I went into the biological sciences because I believed that scientific progress could make life better for billions of people, especially the ones that are the most vulnerable. After more than a decade in academia and industry, I am sceptical that with the current setup, we will ever be able to come up with meaningful solutions to the current and upcoming health challenges of our time. It is astonishing that around 270 billion dollars per year is being spent on medical research, yet emerging diseases like diabetes keep increasing relentlessly in developed countries and preventable infectious diseases like tuberculosis continue to kill millions in the developing world. It is hard not to wonder if we, as researchers, are looking in the right direction to solve the world’s health problems.

If this trend continues, our healthcare industry will be crippled from the increasing burden of illness that threatens to swallow up resources that are getting scarcer. To face these complex health challenges, I believe that there is an urgent need to explore radical new directions for scientific discovery that are innovative and unconventional yet relevant for the health problems that we face today.

To do this, we need to abandon the safety of scientific silos, go beyond the existing scientific paradigms and reach out across different knowledge domains to make new connections that bring us to the next level of understanding the human body in the context of modern society and the environment that we live in. Equally important, we should treat negative results with the same reverence as positive results, even if this means that these results are not as appealing to prestigious scientific journals and for our scientific careers. At present, large areas of investigation are being neglected simply out of fear of going against the prevailing scientific establishment (which includes grant-funding bodies and university tenure committees) or perhaps out of perception that the topic is not fashionable enough for the community. This aspect of research culture, I feel, hinders our ability to truly discover solutions that make a real difference to people’s health and to society.

With this blog, I plan to look at issues in healthcare with different sets of lenses. I want to ask questions that are not usually asked and pick up on things that are not usually noticed. I will attempt to put healthcare issues in perspective by incorporating viewpoints from beyond the world of biological science and medicine. Stay tuned for more updates and I look forward to your comments!