Pattern Recognition amongst the challenges

For some time now, we have been working with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Office for Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research (OSCHR) on the concept of "stratified medicine".  The concept is disarmingly simple - once you have got your head around it!

We (humans) are all biologically different.  Therefore our response to any disease agent or therapy will also be different.  The advance of medical science and the development of the associated technologies have allowed us to probe those differences, and thus separate the population into groups with different susceptibilities to different diseases, both chronic and acute.  It is therefore increasingly possible to identify the precise therapy needed to treat a specific human being with a specific disease state.  This is the concept of "personalised medicine".  At this point the laws of economics join the laws of science.  Although it is theoretically possible to treat every human differently, the cost would be prohibitive.  The question becomes one of the level of granularity with which to differentiate the 6 billion people on the planet and affect treatment.

What was fascinating to me last Wednesday was to hear roughly the same argument played out for education.  I had been invited to a meeting by Sebastian Conran, in his role of chairman of the Design and Technology Alliance.  There I met Virginia Beardshaw and Kevin Gillard of ICAN, a charity that focuses on the development of speech, language and communication skills in all children - but with a special focus on those who find this hard. 

The discussion was based around the observation that the percentage of people with dyslexia and other learning difficulties is disproportionately high in prisons (it is also quite high in art colleges and other centres of creative learning J ).  The logic is that problems with communication, particularly early in life, alienate those affected and they turn to innovative and creative ways to get their points across; some of these are good for society, some are not.  This is similar to the stratification of people as biological systems but based on the difference in our brains rather than our bodies.  

I was reminded of the Foresight project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing, where the consideration of the lifelong aspects of mental health, the recognition that a nation's capability to prosper depended on its population's combined mental as well as physical capabilities, and the probable need for through-life retraining are all analysed. 

The challenge is that whereas the latest science and technology are fairly easily combined to determine the health, or otherwise, of a person, it is less easy to determine the communications abilities of a primary school child.  There is also the question of how to implement the flexibility of education once you have determined the capabilities of the child , or group of children.  However, as Ford Prefect said in the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Fit the Seventh) in response to the question "Do you have an answer?" he replied "No, but I have another way to look at the problem!"


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:26

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