It may seem surprising that the star that built IBM's Watson artificial intelligence (AI) platform quit the corporate Goliath to work at Viome, a start-up launched Wednesday that aims to leapfrog medical breakthroughs in microbiome science.
However, this emerging field — that interprets the DNA record of trillions of bacteria that live in our body and regulate our immune system — has captured the imagination of the world's leading futurists, including Google's engineering director Ray Kurzweil and chief science officer of the SENS Research Foundation Dr. Aubrey de Grey, who both sit on the private company's advisory board.
According to Guruduth Banavar, the former vice president of cognitive computing at IBM who is now Viome's chief technology officer, "It was an opportunity to apply years of machine-learning experience to a new field of medical science that can radically change human lives." As he explained, the ultimate goal is to create a better intelligence to pinpoint triggers of disease in the body and personalize medical treatment.
It's a race to turn the trillions of bacteria in our body into medical breakthroughs. New research has revealed that the so-called microbiome — the DNA record of the trillions of bacteria that live in our digestive system, on our skin and throughout our body — help regulate our immune system, synthesize vitamins and aid in digestion. By exploiting this information, medical professionals at Viome and elsewhere will be able to diagnose, prevent and treat a variety of health conditions and diseases, such as infectious disease, autoimmune disorders, obesity and cancer.
Already, researchers have found a functional link between the bacteria in the gut and the onset of Parkinson's disease, one of the world's most debilitating brain disorders that affects 1 million people in the United States and up to 10 million globally. It is hoped the new information can be used to develop the next generation of probiotics and drugs.