Nathan Myhrvold, Lee Hood Forge Longstanding Partnership at Nexus of IT and Biology
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and perform analysis and synthesis of the body of information through peer-reviewed journals, which over time can lead to development of a treatment or vaccine. The knowledge is stored away in memory that’s passed down in medical textbooks. This is like a societal-level “greater immune system,” Myhrvold said.
The part that’s exciting now, Myhrvold said, is that the exponential growth of computer processing power has enabled knowledge to move so fast across traditional barriers of time and geography that scientists can make faster progress. It works by functioning in the context of a system of researchers around the world, who are pooling their knowledge in real-time.
There are still limits to how fast a biological experiment can go—if you give a cancer drug to a patient, you have to wait to see if the tumor shrinks. But more and more early-stage testing of drug candidates in the future will be done with “in silico” models to weed out winners from losers before scientists embark on the time and expense of clinical trials like the ones done today, Myhrvold said.
If Myhrvold were a hired consultant, he’d probably use some platitude about how it’s all about working in teams. But here’s one snippet of how he described the approach in his talk at the Institute for Systems Biology.
“If we view systems as systems, and look to optimize them, we’ll do enormously better than simply being a member of the system. Part of the reason I’m here to talk to you today is to wake you up and say, ‘By the way, you are all macrophages, and B-cells, and T-cells,’” Myhrvold said in the talk. “Just like those, you are not aware—the B-cell isn’t aware of its role in the grand scheme of things. Which is why when you have mistakes in the immune system, it’s also not aware it’s hurting you. With autoimmune disease, there’s no consciousness there. I claim that if we are conscious that we are all cogs in this machine, we might be able to do better.”
In this spirit of looking at the grand scheme of all things innovative in the Northwest, we’ve brought together Hood and Myhrvold to have an in-depth chat about “breakthrough ideas,” and to see a number of exciting projects that are outside of their direct comfort zones. Who knows what patterns they might find in the diverse group of entrepreneurs and researchers we’ve assembled from the worlds of computing, robotics, advanced materials, and healthcare delivery? We only have a handful of tickets left for this event, but we look forward to seeing you and many of our regular readers there on Monday afternoon.