Keeping track of what we reveal about ourselves each day—through email and text messages, Amazon purchases and Facebook “likes”—is hard enough.
Imagine a future when Big Data has access not only to your shopping habits, but also to your DNA and other deeply personal data collected about our bodies and behavior—and about the inner workings of our proteins and cells. What will the government and others do with that data? And will we be unaware of how it’s being used—or abused—until a future Edward Snowden emerges to tell us?
Physicians, however, are already using genomics to predict and diagnose diseases such as breast cancer and macular degeneration. Thousands of parents use prenatal genetic tests to check if their embryo or fetus carries genes for devastating diseases such as Tay-Sachs or Fragile X syndrome. Researchers have discovered genetic markers that can identify mutations in cancerous tumors that allow doctors to target specific chemotherapy drugs to match a patient’s mutations in their own DNA—leading, in some cases, to astonishingly high rates of remission.
In the past two decades, the drug industry and government agencies like the National Institutes of Health have plowed hundreds of billions of dollars into turning genetics from a research project into something real. AT&T, Verizon, IBM and other IT giants are developing digital health networks and products, while thousands of start-ups are in a mini-frenzy to create new digital health networks and apps.