April 03, 2019
Scientist, BC Cancer
What social issue does your research attempt to address?
I research the sustainability, value and social impacts of precision medicine. I study the individual and community-informed risks and benefits of precision medicine, its cost-effectiveness, and what policy changes can support the responsible and equitable application of multi-omics.
What drew you to this area of research?
I’m really interested in understanding the extent to which patients, families, and communities value healthcare. Precision medicine is interesting because its benefits and risks are related to information. In fact, next generation sequencing technologies provide large amounts of genomic information that can have a multitude of implications on patients’ and families’ lives. This information can impact not only health outcomes, but also non-health outcomes such as planning for the future.
Health economists suggest that the idea of ‘benefit’ should be solely related to an improvement in length of life or health related quality of life (health status). In context to precision medicine, we’ve demonstrated that patients and families value genetic and genomic information, regardless of its potential to improve health status. There is still a lot to do in terms of convincing others the importance of this broader conceptualization of benefit, but I think precision medicine represents a significant opportunity to do so.
What benefits do social sciences bring to genomics research?
Economists think a lot about decisions and benefit (what we call utility) in context to scarce resources or constrained budgets. The evidence we produce attempts to incorporate the opportunity costs of decisions. For example, because budgets are constrained, if the healthcare system funds a new technology that is more expensive, the new technology will take funding from another technology. That opportunity cost is the potential to take away health and well-being from one patient population and redistributing it to another. As such, our work has a lot of underlying social and ethics issues that are of central concerns to stakeholders.
As someone living and working in British Columbia, what is your favorite thing to do or place to go?
My favourite place is my back yard. My wife’s family settled in a beautiful part of Coquitlam (on the Port Moody border), where our backyard is bordered by old-growth trees set against a backdrop of Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains. This gives ample room for me and my two sons to explore the outdoors – even if we encounter a black bear (or two or three) in the process.
What’s on the top of your ‘Bucket List’ right now?
Last year I was invited to speak at the Roundtable on Genomics and Precision Health at the United States’ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. That had always been the top of my Bucket List. Next up is t to convince stakeholders that we need to consider broader conceptualizations of health and well-being when making complex decisions.
About Genomics and Society
Genome BC has taken a leadership role in exploring the societal aspects of genomics research. One way we do this is through supporting genomics-related social science and humanities research. This area of research doesn’t just focus on genomic impacts on society once the scientific research is complete . Through collaboration, it also aims to inform on the societal dimension of scientific research questions, research design and funding allocation. This can help genomics research produce social benefits and achieve public value. In the context of Canada’s Genomics Enterprise, this research is referred to as ‘GE3Ls – Genomics and its Environmental, Economic, Ethical, Legal and Social aspects and is distinct from the anticipated socio-economic benefits of the project itself. Learn more about Genomics and Society here.