The Personalized Health Project: Identifying the Gaps Between Discovery and Application in the Life Sciences and Proposed Solutions

82 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2013

See all articles by David Ewing Duncan

David Ewing Duncan

Center of Life Science Policy, University of California, Berkeley

Frank L. Douglas

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Linda Molnar


Stephen Spielberg

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Date Written: January 1, 2011


Recent advances in the life sciences hold great promise to not only improve the health of individuals, but also shift medicine and society away from primarily treating illness toward a greater emphasis on prediction, early diagnosis, prevention, and personalized treatments.Exciting breakthroughs have come in a broad range of fields, including genomics, proteomics, epigenomics, neuroscience, nanotechnology, microbiology, environmental toxicology, and systems biology. Translating these discoveries for patients, however, has been slower than many expected. In part, this comes from a ― natural gap that always occurs between innovation and implementation. Yet many inside and outside of the life sciences field contend that this gap is wider than it needs to be. This study assesses this contention. It also delineates possible causes for what might be termed an ― artificially created gap, and offers proposed remedies — many of which are under way, but moving slowly — to shrink the gap and more efficiently facilitate the adoption of new scientific breakthroughs.

The authors have conducted a survey of major studies and reports addressing aspects and causes of the alleged gap, and a range of proposed solutions and initiatives. We have engaged a group of thirty-six senior leaders from science, medicine, business, government, law, ethics, the media, and patient advocacy to provide input and help assess key features of the gap, and to help formulate proposals to accelerate the application of new biomedical discoveries. The panelists each completed a standard set of eight survey questions (see Appendix C: Project questionnaire).

We are in an unprecedented period of scientific and technological discovery that has placed society on the cusp of a new era of health care. Yet an artificially created gap does exist between innovation and application in the life sciences. (Ninety-seven percent of the expert panel concurred with this assessment. 2) A key obstacle to shrinking this unnatural gap has been a failure to coordinate and communicate new innovations across disciplines and institutions throughout society — in science, medicine, environmental science, industry, finance, patient advocacy, government, politics, ethics, law, and the media. The current system was assembled to serve a biomedical and health care model that is fast becoming outmoded and incomplete, one that (1) emphasizes the diagnosis and treatment of illness without an equal amount of attention paid to keeping people healthy; (2) traditionally has treated patients according to generalized population data and averages rather than as individuals; and (3) depends heavily on a reductionist approach that has served science and society well, but also has led to a ― silo effect that over-emphasizes details and subspecialties and fallen out of balance with the complementary need to integrate. A restoration of this balance would assist in transitioning to a health care enterprise that is more personalized and holistic and emphasizes healthy wellness and illness. The authors are confident these gaps will be addressed, but can happen more quickly and coherently if the life sciences community and society establish a more robust plan to accelerate the translational process.

This study concludes with a list of action items the authors and panelists believe will remove barriers and hasten the adoption of new discoveries. These include (1) suggested shifts in thinking, and (2) more practical measures — plus an appeal for our society to encourage the same level of intense and fruitful creativity and innovation in the clinic, business, law, education, ethics community, the media, and government as we have applied in making basic scientific discoveries and in developing new technologies.

Keywords: health, life sciences, personalization, personalized, health care, healthcare

Suggested Citation

Duncan, David Ewing and Douglas, Frank L. and Molnar, Linda and Spielberg, Stephen, The Personalized Health Project: Identifying the Gaps Between Discovery and Application in the Life Sciences and Proposed Solutions (January 1, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

David Ewing Duncan (Contact Author)

Center of Life Science Policy, University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Frank L. Douglas

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation ( email )

4801 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110-2046
United States
8169321204 (Phone)

Linda Molnar

Independent ( email )

Stephen Spielberg

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ( email )

5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857-0001
United States


Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics