Precision medical surveillance concept: determine diseases before they develop

Precision medical surveillance concept: determine diseases before they develop

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Stanford researchers: "Today's medicine is deeply flawed!"

If we feel bad, we go to the doctor. In the best case, we will find out what we have and, in the best case, how we can get rid of it. In the worst case, we go home at a loss as much as we got there. "A deeply flawed concept," claims Professor Michael Snyder. In a recent study, his team shows how health monitoring can be made more effective so that you can react before the child has fallen into the well.

A recent study by Stanford University School of Medicine introduces a new concept of health surveillance, in which changes in health status are detected much earlier. In this way, early signs of an illness could be detected before it even causes physical symptoms. The analysis of large amounts of data, so-called big data, plays a central role in this. The results were recently published in the journal "Nature Medicine".

What is healthy?

Usually people are only examined when they are sick. For this reason, physical impairments that arise from illnesses are in some cases very well researched and the illnesses can be identified quickly. The absence of such biomarkers is defined as a healthy state. "This is a deeply flawed concept," warned Professor Snyder of Stanford University. "We generally examine people when they are sick, rarely when they are healthy," said Synder. For this reason, one does not really know what a healthy state looks like on an individual biochemical level.

Being healthy means more than the absence of an illness

The professor of genetics wanted to change this now. His team gathered huge amounts of health data from more than 100 healthy people over several years to look for changes in the norm that could indicate the development of a disease. This big data study gave the team a new understanding of what it means to be healthy.

Paradigm shift in health surveillance required

The study clearly shows that longitudinal monitoring of one's own personal health provides better insights into one's own condition than point-by-point medical monitoring when one is feeling bad. Regular health surveillance identified more than 67 clinically feasible health findings at an early stage. These include widespread diseases such as high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy and cancer.

Everyone has an individual health base

The normal state of each individual participant was determined as the basis for the monitoring. For this purpose, the researchers used the latest methods of genome sequencing as well as microbial and molecular profiling. This data results in an image that can be defined as a healthy state for the respective person. By monitoring certain factors, deviations and anomalies can be detected much faster, in order to indicate possible diseases.

Are our health monitoring methods out of date?

“The idea was to observe normal, relatively healthy people, get a good idea of ​​their biological norms such as heart rate, blood pressure, immune molecules and gene expression, and then look for changes that could indicate an illness,” explain the researchers. In order to identify a person's normal condition, the team collected all of a person's health data that were available, such as blood tests, stool samples, data from smartwatches, blood sugar tests and the like. The constant monitoring of this data meant that many disease processes could be identified before they even caused symptoms.

Consistent monitoring means that deviations are noticed more quickly

The 109 participants were monitored for an average of three years. A health-related event occurred in more than half of the people, which was uncovered by the surveillance. None of these health problems were known in advance. "We uncovered many health problems because we noticed the change from baseline," explains Snyder. For example, nine cases of diabetes were identified, which were revealed by the changes in glucose and insulin levels. Unknown heart disease was found in 13 other people, and high blood pressure was reported in 18 subjects. Cancer was found in two participants and lymphoma was found in another.

Do not treat diseases, but maintain health

"Many of these results would have been missed using typical methods that are common in medicine today," emphasizes Snyder. A new health monitoring system could shift medical practice from focus on disease treatment to health maintenance by predicting the risk of disease and treating a disease before complaints arise. Modern technology already offers numerous possibilities for the collection of such data for every single person. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Michael P. Snyder / Schüssler-Fiorenza Rose, Sophia Miryam / Contrepois, Kévin / u.a .: A longitudinal big data approach for precision health, Nature Medicine, 2019,
  • Stanford University School of Medicine: Study shows how big data can be used for personal health (accessed: 04.07.2019),

Video: Big Data + Genomics = Earlier Disease Detection (May 2022).