Friday, January 7, 2011

Convergence

This week researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a white paper titled “The Third Revolution: The Convergence of the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering”. It begins
“There are few challenges more daunting than the future of health care in this country. This paper introduces the dynamic and emerging field of convergence—which brings together engineering and the physical and life sciences—and explains how convergence provides a blueprint for addressing the health care challenges of the 21st century by producing a new knowledge base, as well as a new generation of diagnostics and therapeutics. We discuss how convergence enables the innovation necessary to meet the growing demand for accessible, personalized, affordable health care. We also address the role of government agencies in addressing this challenge and providing funding for innovative research. Finally, we recommend strategies for embedding convergence within agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which aims to optimize basic research, improve health technology, and foster important medical advances.”
If “convergence” is the melding of physics and engineering with the life sciences, then I suggest that a good place to start your search for convergence is the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. The MIT white paper is singing our song about the integration of physics with biology. But I am a Johnny-come-lately to convergence compared to my coauthor, Russ Hobbie, who pioneered this approach decades ago.
“Between 1971 and 1973 I audited all the courses medical students take in their first two years at the University of Minnesota. I was amazed at the amount of physics I found in these courses.”
You can find more about the white paper in an article in the Science Insider. The authors talk about three revolutions in biomedicine: the first was molecular and cellular biology, the second was genomics, and the third will be convergence. I must admit that I find the white paper a little self-serving; most of their examples feature MIT researchers (says the guy who writes a weekly blog about physics in medicine and biology with the goal of peddling textbooks!). But I agree with its premise. Indeed, the first sentence of their concluding paragraph sounds as if it could be a promotion for our book.
“The merger of the life, engineering, and physical sciences promises to fundamentally alter and speed our scientific trajectory. NIH and other affected agencies, if adequately funded and made ready, can be thought leaders in this next scientific revolution. The time is right for NIH and other agencies to take up convergence as the wave of the future, creating dramatic new opportunities in medicine for new therapies and diagnostics, economic opportunity, as well as promise in many other scientific fields, from energy to climate to agriculture.”

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