Smart Drugs,

#169: The Future of Personalized Medicine

February 24, 2017

We can probably agree that the majority of the big problems — climate change, obesity, etc. — in the world are being caused by human activity.  But what makes us act badly and often against our own best interest?

Our own biology can act against us; when our neurotransmitters and hormones aren’t regulated properly, we act out.  On the flip side, when our neural networks are functioning at peak capacity, we can solve incredibly complex problems.

If we’re are the cause of most of our problems, then the solutions have to come from us too.  That’s why Daniel Schmachtenberger, founder of the Neurohacker Collective, is working to find the answers to the question:  How do we elevate human behavior?

Our Complex Biology

When you think about how modern health is organized, broken into multiple specialties like neurology or gastroenterology, it doesn’t really make sense.  The gut-brain connection is very real, and medical reductionism can ignore these cross-system effects.

Take anxiety, for example.  Although single-molecule interventions like GABA can modulate the symptoms of anxiety, they don’t actually deal with the underlying cause.  Any actual cure will have to understand the cause.

But there are physical and psychological causes of anxiety.  You might be suffering from anxiety due to a genetic predisposition, a traumatic brain injury, or PTSD.  When you start digging, there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of contributing factors, both physical and psychological.

Personalized Medicine

Schmachtenberger predicts a steep rise in personalized medicine to get to the root causes of various diseases and disorders.  This means the anxiety-sufferer with a traumatic brain injury will receive different treatment than the genetically-predisposed.

To crunch all the possible contributing factors and potential treatments, we’re going to need a very powerful AI to synthesize all possible causes and treatments with efficacy.

According to Schmachtenberger, the diagnostics required for truly personalized medicine are going to get a whole lot better in the coming years.  That means that metabolomics is going to become both accurate and inexpensive.  We’ll be able to easily run whole genome sequencing on ourselves.  And even diagnose ourselves at home, through a single drop of blood or a laser beam blood analysis.

Roadblocks to the Future

The main obstacle currently is with the research.  The economics of scientific research is such that it only makes sense to invest the money on substances you can patent.  That means that a holistic approach to health including diet, exercise, and plant-based medicine is out.

So the Intellectual Property structure and incentive system don’t lend themselves to pursuing personalized medicine.  Neither does the clinical trial system, where the effect of a single substance is measured.  When you realize how complex our biology is, it doesn’t make sense that there would be a single molecule solution to a problem.

Let’s not rag on modern medicine too much though.  While it’s failed us at finding solutions for chronic health problems, it remains a tremendous asset for acute health problems like infections or strokes.

Ultimately, Schmachtenberger would like to see four revolutions leading to new science, a new understanding of IP, new regulations, and new economics.

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  1. ben says:

    I’m always impressed by the quality of questions and observations! For example, how the aging brain seems to have both shrinkage (grey matter, etc) and simultaneous inflammation swelling.. I had never noticed the irony!

    For a bit more on how genetic tinkering will be the personalized medicine of tomorrow, radiolab did a recent update to their CRISPR technology episode.. tiny dna fragments in bacteria have opened the door for a seemingly universal, precise, and effective way of cutting out and replacing parts of dna.

    Regarding how sleeping on your side may boost the glymphatic systems’s job of clearing of beta-amyloid proteins from the brain.. in addition to helping with back pain, some say (left) side sleeping helps with the heart… all things being equal, that’s good enough for me to switch!

    BTW, anyone try Qualia and could share their experience?

    1. Jesse Lawler says:

      Thank for the comments, Ben. 🙂 CRISPR is a hugely deep topic and well worth looking into for anyone curious about the future of medicine (if not the human species). It’s a little off-topic for cognitive enhancement at present, simply because there aren’t very clear paths yet to improving intelligence through genes. But who knows, maybe a worth an “Overdose Edition” episode one of these days.

      And good luck with the side-sleeping!

  2. Jake says:

    Qualia is amazing. Easily the best nootropic I’ve ever tried. Jesse – kudos for having the courage to have Schmachtenberger on the show even though he sells a competing nootropic. Your listeners win in the end, and everyone wins, both Neurohacker and Axon Labs.

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