“The metaverse can also serve the world of health”

You are not always reserved for medical biology. Can you go back on your journey?
Professor Damien Gruson: I wanted to be a community pharmacist, and that’s what I started by studying at Catholic University (UC) in Louvain. After somewhat mixed experiences during my internship in pharmacies, I transformed myself into a more clinical and medical specialist, in this case biology, starting a five-year course. within the same university. In 2011, I got my doctorate after a thesis focusing on hormonal mediators and biomarkers of heart failure.

What topics are you working on right now?
They are many because I have a lot of hats. Head of the department of medical biochemistry in the clinics of the university of Saint -Luc in Brussels since 2016, I am also, since October 2021, head of the department of Clinical Laboratories -a position equivalent to a head of the division in France -, covering some specialized sectors, such as anatomopathology, microbiology, biochemistry, or even molecular biology and genetics. But I am also a university professor, and thus manage specialization courses in biology and biochemistry at the University of Louvain. These are my “routine” activities. At the same time, I try to keep up with research on cardiovascular scores, and especially on the use of delocalized and digital technologies. I am particularly interested to see how these tools can facilitate decision making when supporting chronic patients.

Precisely, do digital technologies occupy an important place in your daily life?
This is exactly the case, but this observation applies to society at large, where digital is now available to everyone. In health, the trend has been rapid for many years now: measurement techniques are more and more accurate, they are miniaturizing, rapid tests and telemedicine have become more common … The intensification of “omics” methods, such as genomics or proteomics, further increasing the amount of data generated, requiring increased use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), which are best able to process and exploit these masses of information. They are therefore naturally spread in the health sector, including medical biology.

How to interpret this scattering?
The integration of a new technology into our processes is always at the forefront of discussions and discussions with hospital clinics, to identify their needs and the tools available to meet them. In addition to this multidisciplinary consultation, there is a technology monitoring effort, conducted on a daily basis by research teams and units. Once a solution is validated, we always introduce it, taking into account its payment terms. It can also be a brake, as today’s reimbursement models don’t always consider innovation, especially for digital media or delocalized biology. So the situation is usually resolved by the hospital itself. This is why, in my opinion, it is necessary to engage in economic reflection on a larger scale around access to innovation for all, and especially for the most vulnerable and vulnerable populations.

You mentioned artificial intelligence earlier. How do you approach it?
We regularly interact with “Louvain Intelligence Artificial Medecin”, an AI incubator hosted within the university and that brings together health professionals and researchers in data processing. Our goal here is to identify solutions that can support clinical practice in the broadest sense, and especially the practices of medical biologists. Once selected in a multidisciplinary manner, these tools can help make clinical decisions, or contribute to the processing of the scientific literature. The latter, which is more advanced, can be explored in AI. And then, as I pointed out above, AI is also an important ally for “melting” the consequences of “omics” science panels.

Are the new dynamics currently at work having an impact on the medical biologist profession?
They are already there, and it will obviously continue. But technology cannot replace man. On the contrary: for my part, I am convinced that the future is for the bred biologist, which is to say someone who is accompanied by digital tools. It speeds up practice, helping to identify processes whose medical and surgical effectiveness can be improved. For example, in a laboratory, a clinic or a care center, they make it possible to better target areas or ranges where it would be most relevant to mobilize resources. man. However, and even though technology offers many benefits, people remain decision -making. In short, new technologies will lead us to save time and efficiency, which we will use to better focus on the most complex cases.

You have been in contact with the world of health since your first degree in pharmacy in 2000. Have you witnessed major changes?
Evolution is constant there: So I’ve witnessed many waves during my career, automation of laboratories, regroupings, miniaturization, the boom in genomics and “omics” technologies … And all the faster, the change no longer occurs on the scale of a decade, but only a semester. This is even more shocking if we take the example of the health crisis, considering everything that has been done in a few months of rapid tests, multiple tests or a sequence. It’s impressive. And the trend is the same for digital technologies in the broadest sense. Before Covid-19, no one would have thought to have, through a digital application and QR code, access to their vaccination certificate or their results almost immediately. But if the health crisis is undoubtedly accelerating, it has continued for a long time: big companies, incubators, are already surfing the transitions marked by technology and it won’t stop.

What technologies might emerge for the biology sector in the future?
I think in particular the Metaverse, which has been particularly promoted in recent months for the general public, but could also serve the world of health and biology. This technology actually makes it possible to simulate many objects, new instruments, new laboratory tests, even new laboratories themselves. So Metaverse can be a large simulation base, for example with access to virtual patients within which to integrate multiple data sets, multiomics, biological, clinical … AI processing will offer us the possibility with a complete. picture a patient to, for example, visualize the effect of a treatment or an action, and thus judge its effectiveness and the possible risks.

Practice changes can be important here…
Really, but we have to look at them, prepare for them. Especially since we have already witnessed these developments in our daily lives, i.e. outside of our profession as health professionals. If we take the example of the Metaverse, reflections are already going on in the general population, for use in a fun setting or on social networks. Technology is changing our lives as a whole, we see it every day. But the hospital is not disconnected from the rest of the world. This is true for new technologies, but also for other themes that are at the heart of society today, such as sustainable development.

Do you think technology can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?
The new devices bring an undeniable help to be more efficient in our consumption, including in terms of prescriptions for examinations or therapies. Take the correct prescription for antibiotics, which should be kept in an environment known to A Health », i.e. including the environment, man and animal. To prevent antibiotic resistance, the veterinary world, the human world and the industrial world are involved and therefore need to work together. To be more efficient, to work together better, technology is definitely an asset.

Can this collaboration be extended?
True digital health systems are starting to emerge, especially in Europe. On the scale of our continent, mixing populations can create more uniform practices, but if we want optimized medical efficiency, the will must also be political. In recent months, the political world has been able to judge the effectiveness of clinical biology, the importance of prevention and diagnostic tests. In order to proceed, it is now necessary to participate in the European consultation so that the most important tests are paid for in the same way in all European States. This discussion should also consider the topic of directly to the consumer », a model in which the citizen can prescribe his or her own tests. Already very liberal in the United States, but also in some European countries, this practice is a total paradigm shift that is not just about the world of medical biology. While commendable, this desire for autonomy is not without consequences, as the citizen runs the risk of finding himself alone, with no way to analyze the results or even to prove reliability. in trials.

Articles published in the May 2022 edition of Hospitalia can be read here.

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