Gene sequencing and diagnostic imaging can work together to help patients with colon cancer.

October 19, 2013

3 Min Read
Innovations In Gene-Sequencing and Diagnostic Imaging  Spawn  New Opportunities for Medical Device Manufacturers

Medical device manufacturers should capitalize on some of the latest and perhaps most important innovations in the growing field of personalized medicine. By doing so, they will be well positioned to help overcome some of the most serious diseases such as cancer. A new Accenture report, Future Healthcare: It's All About Functionality, describes these innovations and the role manufacturers should embrace to achieve this goal.

One major innovation is next-generation gene sequencing, a process that determines the exact sequence of nucleotide bases in a human’s strand of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This innovation gives healthcare professionals a deeper understanding of complex networks of disease-related genes and how to regulate them.

The second innovation, complementary to gene sequencing, is diagnostic imagining. Administered by ultrasound or various other medical devices such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET), diagnostic imaging visualizes a person’s internal structures such as organs, bones and microstructures such as cell types. Advances in imaging granularity provide specificity to personalized medical treatments, especially in screening, diagnosis, therapies, and post-treatment of diseases.

Implications for Colon Cancer

Colon cancer, a disease that affects 1.2 million people worldwide each year, causing 50,830 deaths in the United States alone, according to the American Cancer Society, is a prime example of a disease that can greatly benefit from these types of innovations. Currently, diagnostic imaging detects a tumor’s size and shape. Combined with next-generation sequencing, gene abnormalities that lead to cancer are becoming better understood. As such, a specialized treatment plan targeting the disease’s unique genetic structure is possible. Functional imaging technology, which offers a deeper view into a person’s metabolism, offers encouraging potential to improve future cancer screening processes.

PET-CT, an example of functional imaging, fuses an anatomical CT image with the molecular visualization of a PET scan, creating a superimposed image that more clearly shows the body’s location of metabolic activity. Doctors use this technique to detect cancer metastasis. A second imaging example, Dynamic Contrast Enhanced (DCE), combines anatomical detail with vascular physiology. This blend yields a precise blood flow reading of tumors and can be used as an early indicator of increased angiogenesis, which is the formation of blood vessels that may be caused by tumor cells.

When used in tandem with customized molecular tracers that tag suspected cancer cells, the value of functional imaging will increase significantly. The development of new, non-radioactive fluorescent tracers would help these scans become less harmful for patients. These tracers are aided by molecular imaging, which analyzes metabolic pathways on a molecular level, enabling doctors to detect at early stages abnormal cells predisposed to cancer. In the future, imaging techniques will make it possible for doctors to non-invasively find certain cell alterations and learn more about the disease’s precise cellular networks and paths of travel. Doctors could then determine which metabolic pathway would adhere to potential treatments and then create customized drug therapies to provide a targeted therapeutic approach with less unintended side-effects.

Diagnostic imaging has the potential to provide detection of abnormal cells at early stages and enhance understanding of diseases and drug activity during pre-clinical and clinical drug development. This could help pharmaceutical companies determine which new drug candidates seem most likely to be successful and halt development of drugs that seem likely to fail.

Final thoughts

To take advantage of these innovations, medical device manufacturers should take a leading role in fostering collaboration among all the various players participating in personalized medicine, such as pharmaceutical companies and doctors. They should invest in developing integrated hardware and software products, services and capabilities that take advantage of these advancements.

Markus Hartmann works in the medical device business for Accenture’s Electronics & High-Tech group. He has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, molecular biology and genetics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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