Opinion from Matt Tucker, CEO and President, GE Healthcare Australia, New Zealand & PNG
Australia 2030: Prosperity Through Innovation, the plan released this week by Innovation and Science Australia on behalf of our government, proposes ambitious National Missions, including seizing “the opportunity to integrate genomics and precision medicine into our healthcare system to ensure that Australia continues to be one of the healthiest countries on Earth”.
In my view, this is the number one shift in healthcare and will easily be the biggest trend of 2018. Some of it is happening already and there are many more exciting developments in the technology that is supporting personalised, patient-centric medicine.
I’m inspired that the plan for our nation to thrive in the global innovation race calls for A Genomics and Precision Medicine National Mission. GE Healthcare Australia and New Zealand is working hard on the same mission. Here’s a topline update of some of the technologies and partnerships we’re involved with to advance personalised healthcare, as medicine moves from the past, where it was really built around the clinician experience, to a patient-centric model for healthcare.
Precision health is the big theme for GE Healthcare globally, and we’re tying that into each part of our business. It begins with precision diagnostics, which every part of our business already touches, from in-vitro to in-vivo diagnostics—we’re very proud of our portfolio of imaging technology and monitoring solutions. Now GE has partnered with Roche to create an integrated digital diagnostics platform to improve oncology and critical-care treatment. We’ll apply advanced analytics to in-vivo data from GE’s medical imaging and monitoring equipment with in-vitro data from Roche’s biomarker, tissue pathology, genomics and sequencing portfolio. Basically it means when a clinician gets the report, they instantly have a comprehensive view of that patient’s personalised care and outcomes. Genomic sequencing is already being done, of course, but linking any of the other diagnostic tests to it is still a manual process. We aim to develop an industry-first software platform that uses advanced analytics and apps to enable faster decision making for physicians and individualized treatment for patients.
There’s a lot going on in this space, and GE Healthcare is leveraging GE’s expertise in jet engines and other industrial sectors, where we’ve been utilising 3D printing technology and additive manufacturing for some time. Not only are we able to use 3D printing to improve our product designs, and we’ve seen some products already released with 3D-printed components. The collimators on some of our X-Ray systems and CT scanners are now being 3D-printed; previously it’s been a very manual process to make them, so that will reduce cost and ultimately improve quality. For patients, we’re working on 3D printed models taken from their imaging results. It’s already available on the Voluson E10 obstetric ultrasound machine: the foetus can be automatically 3D printed. This amazing capability is used diagnostically to detect, explain and plan for such things as cleft palates and abdominal wall defects, and also in situations such as those where a visually impaired mother can’t see the ultrasound of her unborn child—she can ‘feel’ its features on the 3D model.
GE Healthcare’s Stephen Abitz is holding a test sample used to develop the tungsten collimator. Image credit: GE Reports
The goal is to have that capability as a one-push button on complex imaging equipment, such as MRIs, so that an organ or a piece of anatomy can be printed automatically. At the moment, getting 3D-printed models off the imaging machines may take many steps, but we believe that it’s key to the future of patient-centric medicine. If you think of jet fighter pilots, before pilots take off on complex missions, they’ve done a simulation run first. With a 3D-printed organ, instead of surgeons having to do it for the first time and only time in real life, they’ll have a model to do a simulation on. They can plan and practice if necessary.
In the past, healthcare was mostly built around the clinician experience. Today, we’re moving to a patient-centric model for healthcare, and that means thinking about the way we design imaging equipment. For example, a few years ago we introduced the Silent Scan MR, which successfully reduces the stress of MRI exams, which can be extremely noisy for the patient. Mammograms are another area of stress: many women don’t have their mammograms in line with the recommended medical guidelines because they’re worried that the compression will be painful. The success of a mammogram relies on a high level of compression so that you get an even density of breast across the X-Ray field. GE developed a world-first patient-assisted compression device, the Pristina Dueta, that’s aimed at reduces the fear of the compression, while actually increasing it—we do this by giving the patient control. We use the analogy of pinching: if I pinch you, it hurts a lot, but if you pinch yourself, it hurts so much less, or not at all. With the Pristina Dueta, the radiographer sets up a level of compression, as with a normal mammogram, then hands the patient a remote-control, which allows the patient to add or reduce the compression. We’ve found that given this phenomenon, the patient will add considerably more compression to their own breasts than they would have let someone else add. That provides better quality imaging, and it also gives them that sense of engagement and control. Ultimately, the patients will have a better test and we believe it is going to improve outcomes, too.