'Can we cure, prevent or manage all disease by the end of this century?' asked by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
In September 2016, Zuckerberg, along with Dr. Priscilla Chan, who heads the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (a limited liability company that they use to make donations and investments to advance their philanthropic causes), have rolled out their plans in investing their $3Billion in the next 10 years to fund medical research and scientific innovation. It aims to tackle all diseases including some of the biggest killers in the world today like heart disease, cancer, infectious diseases, and neurological diseases.
The philanthropic initiative was highly commended by Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, who, like Zuckerberg, has started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which aims to bridge the enormous health gap between rich and poor countries (among their foundation's goals are the eradication of malaria and polio, and controlling the spread of tuberculosis and HIV).
The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative in its early stages is already showing promising and exciting projects - starting with BioHub, a program which aims to funding scientists, technologists and engineers in bringing fresh ideas to solving medical problems and building technologies to aid science.
Here's a look at three of their latest research and how it aims to shape the fields of science, medicine, healthcare and technology.
Understanding and discovering the fundamental units of life is a mammoth task. In 2016, an exciting collaborative community of world-leading scientists joined forces to build a human cell atlas. The Human Cell Atlas will map out the internal workings of every cell type in the body, unlocking the mysteries of a cell and the many different types of cells in our body between a healthy and disease-stricken human body. By doing this, it aims to uncover new ways in treating human diseases by altering and improving human genetics. It will be an immeasurably valuable tool for improving and personalizing health care.
The project aims to bring new approaches to drug design, diagnostic tests and vaccines to combat different types of infectious diseases, such as SARS, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), HIV/AIDS, dengue, and recent virus outbreaks like Ebola, Zika, Chikungunya, and yellow fever.
META is an AI-powered research search engine that will analyse millions of papers, patterns and drawing insights faster than a human researcher. It aims to help scientists and researchers search for relevant information faster and ranking and prioritising all sourced data and information. It will also connect similar research and help collaborate into achieving results and findings faster.
Chan and Zuckerberg's plan came at the right time and at the right moment. A few months after their bold announcement in the last quarter of 2016, the US has welcomed a shift in its government, and the new administration has since introduced budget cuts for scientific research. Specifically, the funding for department of health and human services has been slashed by 18% - a move that will seriously affect medical research, the discovery of transformative drugs and healthcare innovation and breakthroughs.
The initiative is no doubt an ambitious undertaking, but their plan and pledge is exactly what science and medical research needs at this time. We need to be bold and audacious enough in facing the challenges in human health. In order to achieve significant improvements in health, it must be led by a strong vision, commitment, collaborative and inclusive efforts, and heavy means that will eventually lead to major scientific breakthroughs. The process and results may be painstakingly slow, but the colossal tasks are definitely achievable together - from scientists, researchers down to the communities worldwide, who will all benefit from these positive undertakings.
Most recently, partly due to the funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an announcement about the eradication of malaria in four heavily affected countries and that we are on track to eradicate polio by 2018, are encouraging.
Imagine what we all can achieve together, with increased Chan-Zuckerberg-type of initiatives. Beyond hope, the human potential is enlivened; unlocked, ensuring that collaboration, innovative research and methods will effectively benefit us all and the generations to come. We should all believe in the power of possibilities, after all, the possibilities in science are infinite.