Personalized medicine’s potential will be boosted by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) healthcare technology to create the largest biobank in Latin America.
The project, led by Código 46 (a Mexican startup offering DNA testing) and using Microsoft technology, aims to map the genetic code of a million people, which will allow it to develop customized medical treatments and transfer knowledge to the region’s scientific community.
Código 46 was set up in view of the inequality of access to health tools in Mexico, says Lorenza Haddad Talancón, this startup’s founder and CEO.
“I saw my grandfather (who’s no longer with us) suffering due to a chemotherapy that wasn’t doing him any good and looking for alternative therapies because it was doing him harm. When I saw this, I thought there had to be another way to treat people better,” she said.
This company identifies people’s genomic profile from small samples of saliva and aims to prevent, treat, or delay illnesses based on the concept of genomic medicine, a branch whose goal is to recognize a predisposition to diseases based on analysis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) .
Once up and running, after having set up the Código 46 laboratory and formed a project team, they sought solutions for storing and safeguarding people’s genetic information. It was there that they came into contact with BC Platforms, a firm experienced in analyzing and handling genomic data and building biobanks in other parts of the world, which was using Microsoft Azure cloud services.
BC Platforms began the development of a solution that took nearly a year to complete. In July 2018, it created a biobank using Microsoft cloud infrastructure for Código 46, which used the platform’s computing capacity in order to generate the variables that would allow them to perform analysis and save information securely.
All the information analyzed and stored for making genetic associations with diseases and drugs is obtained from international research databases, including that of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS).
Código 46 boasts six tests, one of which is for genetic ancestry, which shows the risk of suffering from diseases such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, or Parkinson’s. The pharmacogenomic test analyzes the body’s reaction to drugs. Código Baby is a neonatal genetic screening test to see whether babies may suffer from diseases that can be treated from birth. There’s also a nutrigenetic test to analyze how the body metabolizes food and one more for fitness, which allows people to adjust their exercise regimes according to their genes.
Partnerships for making an impact on public health
To date, Código 46 has obtained information from approximately 4,000 people that is included in projects with Mexican institutions for advancing health research, such as one with the Autonomous University of Querétaro for making universities healthier and another with other medical geneticists on patients with cystic fibrosis.
The use of artificial intelligence to analyze and categorize patterns in the Mexican populations could have an impact on public healthcare. “There are genetic markers associated with chemotherapy treatments often used by the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS). In our database, 44% have genetic markers associated with a toxicity risk for treatment with platinum. We can change things by demonstrating that genetics can save money, save lives, and revolutionize medicine,” explained Lorenza Haddad.
Preventing a disease is much cheaper than treating it afterwards. You can’t prevent cancer, but if it’s detected early, it’s much cheaper and easier to attack it from the start than when it’s at a more advanced stage.
According to Código 46, studies performed on patients with psychiatric disorders in the United States reveal that the use of pharmacogenomics can save around 2,500 dollars per patient per year and double the chances of a treatment working.
“Our goal is to reach a million people in our biobank. We want to get there not only to change how medicine is practiced at the moment, to change lives, to save lives, but also to keep progressing, to keep investing in research, so that our tests can be even more personalized,” said Haddad.
Learn more about the huge potential for genomic medicine in Mexico here.