Jun Wu (front) and Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, investigators of the U.S. Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The researchers have grown the first chimera embryos containing cells from both humans and pigs in quest for solutions to transplant organ shortages, according to a study published in the Cell journal in January (XINHUA)
We are living a better life due to more and more conveniences brought about by the development of science and technology. But what would happen if we were to get sick in the future?
Through big data and artificial intelligence, people can enjoy tailored healthcare therapies based on their own genetic information and individual health conditions. Moving forward, the healthcare industry will combine the most advanced technologies from a variety of sectors, according to Chinese and U.S. healthcare experts and entrepreneurs at the Penn Wharton China Summit on April 15.
The event, an annual conference organized by Chinese students at the University of Pennsylvania since 2016, aims to boost communication and coordination between China and the United States in different aspects, to serve as a non-governmental channel of understanding, and to strengthen the connection between Chinese students in the United States and their homeland.
From fiction to reality
The development of optic technology, electronics and materials sciences will have a significant influence on the healthcare industry, said Theresa Tse, Chairwoman/Executive Director of Sino Biopharmaceutical Ltd., a company listed in Hong Kong.
"To most people, healthcare may represent a group of cold-faced doctors wearing white robes and doing medical tests with droppers," said Tse. "Actually, the healthcare industry is filled with bold imagination."
She illustrated her point with two pictures: One is U.S. actor Arnold Schwarzenegger's broken robot face from the movie The Terminator, and the other is of Baymax, an inflatable robot serving as a healthcare provider companion in the movie Big Hero 6.
"In the future, if people were to lose a part of their body, they may be expected to reinstall these parts as in The Terminator as long as their body does not reject the transplanted organs built with new materials and 3D printing," said Tse.
Tse also outlined a new concept for the future of personalized healthcare systems: Healthcare robots like Baymax will be able to take care of people all the time, and make healthcare plans based on their client's unique circumstances. They will also provide immediate treatment therapies for most diseases by analyzing blood from a prick of a patient's finger at his or her home.
"Cell therapy will enable the reversal of diseases," Bruce Novich, Division President of Fujifilm North America Corp., pointed out, explaining that the human body degenerates over time, and cells are lost to diseases. Traditional drugs treat disease symptoms and slow the decline, but do not reverse the disease course, replace the cells lost to diseases, or repair the defect, said Novich. According to him, in the future, cell therapy may replace damaged cells and offer a potential cure for a variety of diseases. For example, he said, burn victims can use their own cells for a skin graft with skin produced through cell recreation procedures. "The pain will be less, and the cost will be cheaper," he stressed.
Novich also believes that the development of biological science will greatly push forward the healthcare industry. "In the future, we can create personal medical therapies depending on individual cells," he said.
The idea of individual therapy is not new to China, given the development of traditional Chinese medicine over thousands of years.
"The future, personalized medical treatment sounds like the traditional Chinese medical system," claimed Yan Kaijing, Chairman of the Tianjin-based Tasly Pharmaceutical Group Co. Ltd. "Traditional Chinese medical prescriptions mostly are based on the health conditions of different patients."
Tasly, one of China's leading healthcare groups in the research and development, manufacturing, and distribution of pharmaceutical products, is known for its herbal medicines and herbal extracts, as well as chemical medicines, health products, and pharmaceutical substances.
"In the future, the healthcare industry will be a full combination of the traditional Chinese medical system, the modern medical system, genetics and cytology," Yan pointed out. If treatment will be able to be based on individuals and the modern medical industry, patients can be cured with very small amounts of medicine instead of by use of the current, broad-spectrum medicines.
"Medical innovation, including drug innovation, together with scientific innovation are both basic to the healthcare industry," agreed Lawton R. Burns, Director of the Wharton Center for Health Management and Economics.
A panel discussion on the development of the healthcare industry at the Penn Wharton China Summit on April 15 (DING YING)
Experts and entrepreneurs are confident that development of the healthcare industry will bring great changes in China in the coming 20-30 years.
"We see a lot of the future in China," said Novich. In 2015-16, China's pharmaceutical market saw a total annual sales volume of $155-165 billion, making it the second largest pharmaceutical market in the world. According to him, market size for regenerative medicine is expected to reach $380 billion globally by 2050, and China will be an important link in the value chain.
Partnerships between leading Chinese companies are a key ingredient to success, he said. Healthcare-related technologies are advancing rapidly in China, he said, adding that the population demographics and the country's commitment to cellular therapeutics also promise further development.
"Right now, China is a big medicine producer. With development of healthcare-related technology, it will be also a leading researcher in this industry," said Tse.
"Currently, the goal of healthcare still is to cure diseases," she said. "In the future, it will be to reduce the odds of getting diseases and slowing down or reversing any further development of diseases."
In the coming 20-30 years, Burns pointed out, China will experience a series of reforms in its healthcare system.
"China's healthcare system now is still a hospital-centered system," he specified, adding that pharmacies will cover a bigger proportion of the system.
Yan of Tasly agreed that significant changes of the healthcare system will be seen in China. "We will witness an opportunity to redistribute the value chain in the coming 10 years," he said.
First of all, Yan noted, the consumption terminal of the healthcare system will change. China's healthcare system currently is based on a hospital-rating system, and better hospitals are in bigger cities. "This unbalanced distribution of medical resources is generally going to change."
Yan predicted that the funding method for China's healthcare system will be led by an increasing proportion of commercial medical insurance systems. Currently, commercial medical insurance covers only about 5-6 percent of China's medical insurance market share, while the rest is dominated by government-guided medical insurance.
"This will not only be a reform of China's healthcare system, but also herald a significant change in people's consumption habits and the redistribution of incomes," he said.
(Reporting from Philadelphia)
Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan
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