10 July 2008

Doctor, doctor, I think I'm a computer...

The title, as I’m sure you have already recognised, is from a well-known strand in schooldays humour. This particular example came from a medical student, and I’ll keep the punch line until later.

From the submicroscopic level to international social policy, medicine has become a scientific computing dominated domain. Electronic data handling approaches are centrally responsible for increases in reach, effectiveness and efficiency, though also for dramatic growth in health programme delivery costs.

The highest persistent profile belongs to genetic areas, which could not exist without a mature substrate of computing technologies upon which to build. This doesn’t just mean computerised study leading to fundamental knowledge about genetics, but more traditionally pragmatic correlational studies such as the linkage between leptin expression and DNA methylation or MMP-13 activity in chondrocytes[1] (pointing to potential osteoarthritis therapies), or between gene variants at a particular chromosome locus and incidence of asthma[2]. Then there is the ascendancy of in silico methods for biological chemistry at the molecular level; computing is now so much a part of biology as to be inseparable from it and medicine, a consultant at a large hospital told me briskly over a cellomics display, ‘is only applied biology’.

[more, including the punchline for that joke...]

1. Iliopoulos, D., K.N. Malizos, and A. Tsezou, Epigenetic regulation of leptin affects MMP-13 expression in osteoarthritic chondrocytes: possible molecular target for osteoarthritis therapeutic intervention. Ann Rheum Dis, 2007. 66(12): p. 1616-1621

2. Konstantinidis, A.K., et al., Genetic association studies of interleukin-13 receptor {alpha}1 subunit gene polymorphisms in asthma and atopy. Eur. Respir. J., 2007. 30(1): p. 40-47

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