The Digital Youth Summit (DYS) is a technology focused conference that takes place annually in Peshawar, Pakistan. Since its inception in 2014, DYS has quickly become one of the premier tech conferences in Pakistan—differentiated by its focus on youth empowerment; its ability to attract high-profile domestic and international attendees and speakers and its unique venue: Peshawar, which is one of the oldest living cities in the world.

The summit brings together “the next generation of digital innovators in Pakistan” and typically attracts three audiences: tech industry leaders from Pakistan and abroad, the nascent startup community; and young people looking to network, learn and be inspired. The summit therefore draws participants from the private sector, investors, government, civil society, youth groups and academia. DYS 2018 is organized around three issue areas: Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Digital Skills.

DYS is a joint initiative of the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the World Bank along with key local community and academic partners.

PI, Dr Faisal Khan was invited as a speaker on the second day of the event and his talk titled ‘The Century of Biology: the next big data and engineering discipline’ covered some great advances in biology in recent times and what is in store for the future.

Biology is developing at a rapid pace and increasingly becoming data-driven, thanks to the exponentially decreasing cost of DNA sequencing – or our ability to read the human genome. The first human genome was sequenced in 2001 when an international coalition announced the first draft. The entire project cost close to 3 billion US dollars. The same genome can now, breathtakingly, be sequenced for $1000 (Illumina has recently announced having brought this cost close to the $100 mark). Genome data gives us a glimpse of our past (our pedigree and ethnic background), our present (from our wellness to our illnesses) and our future (diseases we are genetically more prone to have in the future as we age). Genome data also helps us ‘personalize’ medicine by understanding how different patients (of different genetic backgrounds) respond to different drugs. Adding this giant, and growing, corpus of data to digital data from hospitals (like electronic health records) and other new-age sources like our mobile phones, digital watches and other wearables and even digital sensors at home and at work has the potential to give us unforeseen predictive power when it comes to our health and wellbeing.

The Precision Medicine Lab had set up an interactive stall at the expo hall to create awareness about cancer in general and Oral cancer in particular. Members of the lab were present to showcase the cutting edge science to multi-disciplinary techies present there. Oral Cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the Pakistani male population.

The Precision Medicine Lab is a first of its kind cross-disciplinary effort in Pakistan that will allow data analysts and deep learning experts to work very closely with biologists, geneticists and clinicians and establish Pakistan’s first genomics database that will set the stage for larger, more concerted efforts, in whole genome sequencing and precision medicine.

The Lab will also produce novel software tools that will help in side-effects prediction of drugs that are in use currently in the country, drug re-purposing that may lead to drug discovery for challenging and traditionally neglected diseases (like Dengue, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, etc.) and literature mining to help oncologists.

With the largest private hospital in KP (with a dedicated Oncology department, and the Center for Genomic Sciences) on board, means translation and clinical application will be seamless which not only means enhanced healthcare outcomes but also continuous feedback and improvement of these tools in an iterative manner.

A recent study at the Mayo Clinic (US) has shown that there is 30% decrease in hospitalization if the patient’s genomic data is used in diagnosis1. Another study has shown that (in women of 50 years and above) a 37% decrease in cost of cancer treatment is observed if genomics data is available2. Research has also shown that 20% of cancer patients die because of side effects of drugs and not the diseases itself3. Finally, against a global cancer survival rate of about 60%4, the figure in Pakistan is a mere 30%5. This clearly indicates the potential healthcare as well as economic impact of genomic data and better understanding side-effects of drugs has in medicine.

The Precision Medicine Lab, as an affiliate Lab of the National Center for Big Data and Cloud Computing, funded by the Government of Pakistan that’s aims to develop integrated genomic and health datasets and use computational methods to help improve individual patient outcomes, especially in cancer, and to improve development of new drugs and to provide enabling technology for drug combination studies and targeted drug delivery.

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