Quantum Computers and the Coming Era of Personalized Medicine

“There is a world market for maybe five computers”
IBM’s Thomas J Watson

(some people claim this quote is a myth. That he never said this. It’s a great quote though. I wish I had said it.)

Sequencing the genome of a human individual has gone down in cost dramatically in the last decade. The Human Genome Project consortium, which included 18 institutions from around the world, published its final paper in 2004. The cost of that project has been estimated at more than $3 billion. Currently the cost of sequencing a human genome is about $10K.

It is expected that a human genome for $1000 will be announced by someone either this year or the next. There’s an NIH project specifically aimed at achieving the $1000 genome and an X prize to reward the first team to reach that mythical goal. There’s even a book for laymen entitled:

The $1,000 Genome: The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New Era of Personalized Medicine, by Kevin Davies

The book was published on Sept. 2010 and has received favorable reviews.

“Personalized medicine” involves sequencing your genome, and using that information to tailor the drugs you take for diseases which have a strong genetic component, like cancer. Many people are predicting that during the next decade, personalized medicine will become ubiquitous and indispensable in our health care. It could be a gigantic market. Imagine sequencing the genome of every person in an entire country (and that of your little dog too!).

But sequencing the genome of an individual is only the first step. One needs to interpret the results and compare them across wide populations. That means doing massive statistical analyses that require vast computational resources. I believe quantum computers could greatly help with this task, as QCs are ideally suited for doing statistical analyses. QCs can do sampling faster (with a more favorable time complexity) than classical computers (This is a subject near and dear to my heart. My “Quibbs” software is for doing Gibbs sampling with a QC).

“I’ll get you, my pretty — and your little dog too!”
The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz