Michael Snyder, the Stanford W. Asherman Professor of Genetics, is a leader in the field of functional genomics and proteomics.
Snyder combined various state-of-the-art “omics” technologies to perform the first longitudinally detailed integrative personal omics profile (iPOP) and used it to assess disease risk and monitor disease states for personalized medicine.
Technological networks invited Snyder to an Ask Me Anything session to answer your questions about the latest technologies and innovations shaping the future of digital health.
Lucy Lawrence (LL): What sparked your interest in laboratory digitization?
Michael Snyder (MS): Well, I think the healthcare system is broken. We tend to go to the doctor only when we are sick, instead of trying to keep ourselves healthy.
There are many steps in healthcare. You have to travel, usually at a very inconvenient time, to a doctor’s office that looks pretty much the same as it did 40 years ago. When you’re there, they stick a needle in you and take blood, and they’ll take very few measurements from that blood. They will then make decisions about your health based on population averages, calculating the average of your measurements and comparing them to everyone else’s.
So we think each of these steps can be changed. And I think a big part of that is bringing in big data.
LL: How can wearable technology bridge the gap between laboratory research and clinical applications?
Miss CA: It’s all research right now, but a small number of wearable devices have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The reason we care so much about wearables is that they measure 24/7. At the doctor’s office, you get 15 minutes, then they take a measurement, and most people are anxious, so the measurements aren’t always accurate.
Wearables work in the background and measure heart rate and heart rate variability, which are important health monitors, and since they can measure your resting heart rate first thing in the morning, they’re pretty accurate.
So if something is wrong, you are probably either mentally or physically ill.
When I had pre-symptomatic Lyme disease, my smartwatch showed that my heart rate jumped and my blood oxygen dropped, and after blood tests I was diagnosed.
In a real-time detection study, we also showed that you can tell when someone with COVID-19 is not feeling well. Our real-time warning system can detect disease three days before symptoms appear, and in some cases is more sensitive than an antigen test.
If you want to sign up for a study, follow this link.
LL: What do you see as the future of digital health and laboratory technology related to diabetes?
Miss CA: Historically, glucose monitors have been useful mainly for type one diabetics and insulin-dependent type two diabetics, but we’ve started putting these monitors in people without diabetes and those with prediabetes.
In doing this, we found that the glucose of many “normal” people rose just as high as those with diabetes, which could be an indication of those who are about to become diabetic.
Glucose monitors are powerful because what raises an individual’s glucose is highly personalized, meaning some people rise in response to bananas, others to potatoes, and so on. Almost everyone rises in response to rice and cornflakes. These differences are due in part to the microbiome, along with genetic and epigenetic factors.
Apps have been developed that use continuous glucose monitors to make personalized recommendations about what foods to eat, what to avoid, when to eat, and how to exercise.
In Europe, glucose monitors can be purchased over the counter, but in the United States you still need a doctor to order them. I think monitors will soon be easier for everyone.
The ultimate goal is to control your glucose levels early. While this may not prevent you from becoming diabetic, it may at least delay things by a few years. That’s the point of health monitoring, trying to keep yourself healthy instead of trying to fix yourself when you’re sick.
LL: Do you see virtual reality playing a role in digital health?
Miss CA: We will certainly see a role in health in general. I think people would rather not go to the doctor for most things, but rather want to know what’s going on right there and then.
Virtual reality can allow people to choose a convenient time for an examination and go to the doctor in person for more serious matters.
The use of virtual health doctors, mediated through virtual reality, can help people relate to things better.
Right now, we’re used to thinking in two dimensions and that works well, but as these new platforms come along, we’re likely to get better at thinking in three dimensions.
From a research lab perspective, virtual reality would be very useful and more accurate for learning than watching video.
LL: Would aggregate data, with the individual’s consent, be a good direction to go?
Miss CA: Data sharing and data aggregation – with the individual’s consent – is for the good of all.
There are millions of people with medical records who have used drugs. If you have a health condition, it would be good to know about other people with the same condition, what medicines they have taken and the results of the treatment. There is a lot of data on this, but it is not shared.
There are companies that collect such data. They are trying to use the data for health recommendations, something that is also done a lot in academia.
These days, most things are done in a pooled way, which means that each hospital does not share its data, but gives access to it. So you can run a search on the data and they can tell you what their results look like, which is better than nothing.
It’s not as good as everyone sharing their data, but we still work that way.
Professor Michael Snyder talks to Lucy Lawrence, Senior Digital Content Producer for Technology Networks.