While most of us like to kick back during the holidays, a group of dedicated students stepped it up and spent their summer break researching and working on projects at the forefront of developing precision medicine.

These young researchers are currently completing qualifications in medical or IT related fields at the University of Auckland or AUT. Their summer of research is one of the first initiatives undertaken by Precision Driven Health, and six students presented their findings to the team at Orion Health recently as part of the conclusion of their research projects. 

PDH’s Science Director, Professor Gill Dobbie, introduced the presentations by outlining the importance of the PDH initiative as well as four reasons why New Zealand has a unique opportunity to implement modern electronic systems in its healthcare sector. These reasons include: 

  1. New Zealand has a high cultural and ethnic diversity, meaning it can collect lots of varied health data.
  2. New Zealand has a high mobile device penetration (over 70% of Kiwis have smartphones!) meaning modern healthcare applications are more likely to be adopted.
  3. New Zealand has a well-established Health Information Privacy Code (1994), as well as the National Health Index and Health Provider Index. These systems have already collected a wealth of health information that could be further utilised.
  4. The Ministry of Health 2016 strategy report outlines that the New Zealand government recognises the need for a nation-wide electronic health record. 

The Precision Driven Health initiative in New Zealand also faces some challenges, the chief concerns being that: 

  • There is only one source of public health funding distributed through 20 District Health Boards. This makes funding less likely to be spent on a nation-wide scale.
  • It can be difficult to translate biomedical knowledge and data into clinical applications. It takes a lot of effort to transform the scientific data into ‘user friendly’ information.

The students taking part in the summer of research undertook projects designed to overcome these challenges in several different ways. We’ve collated these and present them here. While at an elementary stage and considered to be a ‘proof of concept’, these projects offer fresh insights into what the world of healthcare will look like when precision medicine is fully implemented.

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