Humans have hacked all sorts of computer systems but now we are starting to hack ourselves.

“We [are at] the dawn of what I call the neobiological revolution, which I define as the accelerating movement of ways to use technology and biology to alter the human race,” Jane Metcalfe, founder of Wired and editor and chief of NEO.LIFE. told MobiHealthNews.

“It is also the next stage of the digital revolution.”

Metcalfe will be delivering the keynote address at the Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference in September, where she will be talking about the tech frontier of neobiology. 

“These tools enable us to hack ourselves and find ways of treating disease and amplifying our abilities, and they will ultimately alter our species,” she said.

“We are having incredibly excited responses to it. Things like CRISPR have the power to really ignite our imagination. But they also trigger a lot of fear.

“What I’m interested in tracking is the consumer response to biotechnological innovation, and sort of tracking how we are using this for personal health and what the cultural response to it is. That is kind of a big focus area.”

Not all developments in the digital revolution are as dramatic as CRISPR but advances in gathering and applying data have also created opportunities for discovery, Metcalfe said.

"What is interesting is the difference in value in my data and someone who has a rare disease. My DNA is pretty vanilla. There just isn’t a lot in there that is of interest to researchers. But Henrietta Lacks had a very different situation. How do we create a structure that allows us to take into account the difference of value to healthcare? I think these are ethical questions, moral questions, as much as economical ones.”

As data becomes more readily accessible, this also brings to light questions about compensation. Metcalfe said at the moment very few people or companies are willing to pay cash for data but several organisations including Nebula Genomics and are offering a type of cryptocurrency for that information. 

“The value of that currency is based on faith and the shared agreement of value. It will be interesting to see in the future and definitely something to track,” she said. 

But data privacy awareness is also growing globally. Implemented in May, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) spelled out specific data and privacy guidance about how citizen’s personal data could be used. Metcalfe said the new regulations have the potential to get people elsewhere thinking about reasonable privacy expectations. 

A version of this story was originally published on Mobihealthnews, a sister publication of HITNA.

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TAGS: CRISPR, Genomics



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