December 2017 | Issue 33
Prof Barry Marshall gives keynote lecture at inaugural FutureHealth

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By Sean Firoz, Senior Executive, Communications & External Relations


When DNA sequencing first emerged in the 1970s, it was mostly done manually and limited to a few strands. It was only through technological advances and breakthroughs in the 1990s that millions of DNA fragments could be sequenced at any one time. This automation, cost-efficiency and speed launched us on the path to modern medicine.

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Prof Barry Marshall giving his keynote lecture to an audience of more than 400 at the inaugural Futurehealth 2017 conference

This is just one of the many medical breakthroughs characterising the 21st century, explained Nobel Laureate and Nanyang Visiting Professor Barry Marshall in his keynote lecture at the inaugural FutureHealth 2017 conference, held from 8 to 10 November at LKCMedicine’s Clinical Sciences Building. The inspiring lecture was attended by a crowd of more than 400 attendees, who were keen to hear from prominent healthcare and engineering experts from around the world, like Prof Marshall, as they discussed innovations that transform healthcare.

His lecture, titled “How Advances in Technology Enable Unexpected Breakthroughs in Medicine”, explored three key areas to medical advances: Discovery, Innovation and Translation. Using his discovery of Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) with Dr Robin Warren in 1982, Prof Marshall explained that this discovery debunked the long-standing belief that stress was the main cause of stomach ulcers. Over the centuries, stress had been widely used as a diagnosis for a variety of medical conditions that were at the time hard to investigate.

But Prof Marshall said, “The idea that stress is the cause of things is going out of favour. We have the technology now to find the real cause, and these kinds of technology are so advanced that we can use it for big data collection to look at people in many, more ways.”

Prof Marshall emphasised the need to re-evaluate old concepts as new technologies and the need for scientists and physicians alike to maintain an open mind.

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Prof Marshall gave various examples on how technology helped in medical breakthroughs over the years, emphasising the need to maintain an open mind

He also highlighted that many innovations have become a reality thanks to substantial government funding, as without this backing, many scientists and researchers would not have had the resources to reach a breakthrough. The space race chain reaction from the Cold War is one such example, he added. When the first artificial satellite, SPUTNIK, was launched into space by the Russians, the Americans had to do the same by creating the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). ARPA in turn created ARPANET, the precursor of today’s Internet system. Coincidentally, Prof Marshall took his first steps researching stomach ulcers and H. pylori via ARPANET.

Now as technology shrinks in size but grows in power, scientists are creating new ways for easier data collection in heath, such as wearables like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, and a pill that explores the GI tract in the human body.

He concluded his insightful lecture emphasising that with the backing of the government, research, discovery and innovation can lead to medical breakthroughs that can tackle issues plaguing the human race, and making us better as a whole.