The Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) in Belgium is an independent research organization in the area of cleantech and sustainable development. Their research is aimed at accelerating the transition to a more sustainable world. One of the big societal challenges the world is facing today is a sustainable healthcare system. Currently the system is under tremendous pressure. Jef Hooyberghs, Head of Strategic Research, Sustainable Health Unit at VITO believes if you want to solve this problem, you have to focus on prevention.
Below you can read the full interview.
What’s your vision on the future of healthcare, how will healthcare evolve in the future?
Jef: The idea is that with the technologies that we have available today, that we did not have in the past, it is possible to monitor people with a lot of data, so you can monitor people at the level of genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, physiological parameters and very cheap technologies. You can also do this in a longitudinal way – a combination of these levels of information – this longitudinal approach is providing us today with a dataset that has not been available in the past.
So you are developing a lot of data to use in the area of prevention?
Jef: We want to collaborate with as many partners as possible to use the available data, but we are also producing new data and data that is currently lagging is longitudinal data on an individual level. So that means that we are now setting up a cohort, a small cohort, but a scalable concept. And this cohort is about 30 people that we want to monitor in a longitudinal way with a high measuring frequency, and measuring at a lot of different levels. We are setting this up this year with the ambition to achieve this goal.
And do you really think that prevention of disease will be possible in the future?
Jef: Yes, we are convinced that this is the only way to have a sustainable healthcare system. And the ambition is to have a universal prevention. We need a concept that is fitted for every person. But at the same time it has to be personalized. It has to be based on personal risk, on your personal genome, on your personal lifestyle, on your personal exposure to environmental evolutions.
So people will not get ill anymore in the future?
Jef: Difficult to say, that’s the ambition of course! But we are convinced that non-communicable chronic diseases can be prevented by this approach.We are setting up a cohort of people to monitor in longitudinal way with high measuring frequency says @jef_hooyberghs @VITObelgium Click To Tweet
Are there specific diseases you are focusing on?
Jef: No, we have an open view on diseases. It’s more about the concept. We want universal prevention. We are not focusing on illness, but we are focusing on health. So it’s not disease that we have the focus on, but on the people.
So there is a shift from disease care to health care?
Jef: It’s about putting the citizen in the center of the story. Because a lot of information is already available. It’s also a matter of communicating this to the people to change lifestyle to improve your health. That’s one of the big challenges which is currently in principle possible with the knowledge we have.
And the data that you are collecting, is it needed to collect it at a global scale?
Jef: The last question is a very important one, making it available. We are strongly convinced that the only way to make this innovation possible is by having a correct ownership of this data. We believe that the citizen itself should be owner of his own data. If every citizen is collecting his own data and making it available for research, we will have a dataset that never has been available in the past. That can create real innovations. If every citizen collects #healthdata and makes available for research, we have a dataset that has never been available in the past says @Jef_Hooyberghs @VITOBelgium Click To Tweet
”It's about putting the citizen in the center of the story.Jef HooyberghsHead of Strategic Research, Sustainable Health Unit, VITO