If you are involved in biomedical research you have almost certainly used a device or technique developed by Leroy Hood. The most notable among his innovations include the automated DNA sequencer and synthesizer as well as the automated protein sequencer and synthesizer. For his work on these four instruments – cornerstones of modern molecular biology – Dr. Hood was awarded the American and Japanese equivalents of the Nobel Prize: the Lasker Award and Kyoto Prize. Throughout his career he has successfully translated his basic science research from bench-to-bedside by co-founding more than 14 companies, including Amgen and Applied Biosystems.
Dr. Hood and his team are still actively pioneering medical advances. He currently presides over the Institute for Systems Biology, which he co-founded in 2000 in order to address many of the challenges and opportunities related to biological complexity.
Medgadget had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Hood about his current work and his views of emerging medical technologies and trends. Read a portion of the interview below:
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: Our readers are interested in the devices you and your colleagues have made and continue to make. Would you be able to describe some of the emerging technologies coming from your Institute?
Leroy Hood: We are working on several different technologies spanning a number of systems biology approaches. The first area is single-cell analysis, meaning the ability to globally analyze the genomes, transcriptomes, and proteomes of single cells. [Medgadget note – one reason this is exciting is because it may enable the understanding and subsequent detection of cancer-causing cells in heterogeneous tumors].
A second technology we are working on is targeted mass spectrometry, which has enabled us to quantitatively analyze virtually any of the 20,000 or so human proteins in complex mixtures such as organs or the blood. This may lead to a future Human Proteome Project; though the initial stages of the requisite technologies already exist, the funding unfortunately does not. It will likely be at least a few years before this project is realized.
Yet another area we are working on is family genome sequencing and associated computational tools through which we hope to identify disease candidate genes. [Medgadget note – to this end, Dr. Hood’s group has sequenced more that 200 individual genomes from families with a variety of diseases].
Medgadget: What do you think is the most exciting development or trend in medicine?
Leroy Hood: I think number one on that list is trend of personalized medicine. This includes the development of tools to stratify complex diseases such as breast cancer and Alzheimer’s into distinct subtypes, which will be absolutely fundamental to the development of tailored therapies that will more effectively be able to treat the patient [Medgadget note – this statement by Dr. Hood, regarded as a founding father of modern biotechnology, reminds us of a quote by Dr. William Osler, the father of modern medicine: “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease”]. This is why our Institute is working on a number of personalized medicine projects, including the characterization of diseases using iPS cells derived from patients.
Another important trend worth mentioning is the increasing emphasis on patient wellness, which will ideally help us identify disease conditions early on in their progression.
Medgadget: In the March issue of Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology you discussed the P4 concept for medicine: predictive, personalized, preventive, and participatory. What are a few key examples of the technologies that you think enable or will enable each of these 4 Ps?
Leroy Hood: The first three Ps – namely, predictive, personalized, and preventive – have to do with medicine whereas the fourth P – participatory – is a sociologic issue. In terms of predictive technologies, I believe that a decade from now everyone will have their genome sequence as a fundamental and guiding feature of their medical record. In addition, we will have devices capable of measuring 2,500 relevant proteins from various organ systems – a measurement that will be taken on a longitudinal basis (say once or twice a year) to provide active monitoring of one’s health state. In terms of the personalized aspect, a key enabling technology will be the healthcare information technology tools that will allow us to intelligently mine billions of data points available on each patient and reduce them to make hypotheses about patients’ health states. In the United States alone there are around 340 million people; in order to collect, store, and compare data points for the 6 billion letters of the genome and the 2,500 molecules in each person’s blood that we will analyze for health and disease assessment, we will need advanced computational tools. Regarding the preventive side of the P4 model, systems approaches will give us completely unique ways to prevent and manage disease. The blood metrics, specifically protein and microRNA, will help us assess wellness and optimize behavior to prevent disease progression. Finally, we will hopefully have an increased understanding of innate and adaptive immunity, which may contribute to the development of vaccines for a wide range of disease states.
Medgadget: What are your thoughts on consumer-based medical services and products, such as personal genome services and mobile health devices/apps?
Leroy Hood: I think the personal genome services are doing a nice job of educating the public about current technologies, even if many of the results are not necessarily useful. However, as our understanding of the genome and proteome is increased, these services will be able to provide material that will be integrally tied to a patient’s medical records.
Mobile health devices are really exciting because they give people real-time feedback on how their behaviors are influencing their various physical and molecular parameters. It is the very beginning of a revolution that will digitize medicine, making it cheaper and more accessible to patients.
Medgadget: As someone who has successfully gone between academia, industry, and government (with the Human Genome Project), do you have any thoughts or insights as to how to bring medical technology from bench to bedside?
Leroy Hood: I think the critical step for bringing new devices and technologies into medicine is to design and implement pilot projects that unequivocally demonstrate the power of what you can do with the new paradigm. The results should be sufficiently impressive, and published in order to attract the attention of peers and others who may be interested in similar implementations. Having been involved in a series of projects that lead to paradigm shifts, such as the Human Genome Project and P4 medicine, I can say that what has persuaded people in all cases has been the clear demonstration of value that can be gained by using the new approach.
Medgadget: You’re also a medical doctor, having graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1964. Have you found that training helpful throughout your career, in terms of both your research as well as ability to successfully found and lead biotech companies such as Amgen and Applied Biosystems?
Leroy Hood: Yes, it has been absolutely essential. During medical school I was exposed to many of the subjects – immunology, cancer biology, neurodegenerative disease, etc – that I am currently working on. Medical school gave me a framework for thinking about human biology and disease that has been crucial in guiding my basic research and translational developments. I would not hesitate to repeat that step of my career over again, as it was a uniquely terrific, profitable and exciting experience.
Medgadget: Great to hear. Well, thank you very much for your time, Dr. Hood. We look forward to reading more about your developments coming out of the Institute.
Leroy Hood: My pleasure.
Image: Wikimedia Commons…