Science in the 21st century is in a quite odd position. Though ingrained in our everyday lives, through mobile technology and optimized processes, it is not only taken for granted, but sometimes unjustly challenged and contested. Could be a case of „victim of its own success”. In a world of distributed and unverified information, strange and irrational ideas start to catch speed. It seems the scientific community not only has to promote new ideas, but defend established ones, that built the interconnected world we live in today. And that was the spirit that led to the „Beer and Science” project: gather heterogeneous communities in an informal environment and plant the seed for casual conversations around scientific topics.
For October’s „Beer and Science” event, held in Bucharest, Romania, we chose the subject “personalized medicine in the digital era” and we invited speakers to present their related work. We had presentations from both academia and industry, tackling medical, technical and ethical aspects of novel technologies used in patient treatment.
My own presentation dealt with the concept and embodiment of the medical file. My earliest recollection was of a thick, slightly decomposing, brownish cover kept by my local polyclinic, where a trail of visits to the local GP was being preserved. I don’t know if it registered a visits to other hospitals, or what happened to it at all. The focus then shifted to current digital means of recording medical consultations and analysis. I am pleased today to be able to look back at results 8 years in the past, and inspect the parameters of my body.
But then the ethical questions started to creep in. Who else is able to look at my data and what are the implications? There is definitely a need for more data sharing. We want faster and more accurate results. We want efficient treatments with little to none side effects. But we don’t want pill ads popping up here and there whenever our blood sugar level rises. We don’t want a spike in car insurance premiums for people with higher testosterone readings.
The bottom line is in this world of highly connected and pervasive medical technologies, we need considerate and transparent regulation and monitoring of personal medical data, which can strike a balance between fast and efficient treatments, confidentiality, fairness and economic growth.