Leroy Hood and P4: How precision medicine will transform healthcare

Leroy Hood, MD, PhD, might not be a household name, but his impact on genetics and systems biology is hard to understate. Most notably, Hood invented the automated DNA sequencer that made the Human Genome Project possible.

In recent years, Hood has been working towards an even broader revolution in health care through an approach he calls P4 Medicine. The four Ps stand for predictive, preventative, personalized and participatory.

In his keynote presentation at the Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards, Hood laid out P4 Medicine’s radical vision for the future of health care. It’s a system that encompasses not just treating health problems, but enhancing wellness and preventing problems from occurring in the first place.

The model depends on generating dense, dynamic, personalized data clouds of health information. “The essence of analysis will come from the individual and not the average population,” Hood said during his presentation. (Look out, randomized control trials — a new “gold standard” may be coming).

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Advancing basic science research in systems biology is another integral component of this new paradigm. Systems biology integrates various disciplines within biology, as well as chemistry and physics, to develop a comprehensive understanding of the factors that contribute to both disease and wellness in the human body.

Some key concepts and goals of P4 Medicine, as outlined by Hood:

Preventative, Predictive

  • P4 Medicine is proactive, not reactive.
  • Tracking a vast sample of people in good health will inevitably capture the transition of wellness to disease. Analyzing these data can help scientists find diagnostics and therapeutics for early reversal of the disease trajectory.
  • Hood envisions the wellness industry becoming so large that it surpasses the disease industry in both scope and profitability.

Personalized, Participatory

  • P4 Medicine focuses on individuals, not populations.
  • Personalized genetic sequencing has the potential to reveal a vast amount of actionable information for people who want to lead healthier lives. “Your genome does not determine your destiny — just your potential,” says Hood. “You can circumvent many genetic predispositions with behavioral changes.”
  • Patient-activated social networks will become more and more important to the actual practice of medicine. When patients are empowered, engaged and informed, they can contribute to health care progress in a multitude of ways, including optimizing new medicines, crowd sourcing information and advocacy.

Watch video highlights of the 2015 Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards.