Rethinking healthcare in the quantum age

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The application of quantum computing in healthcare and life sciences is expected to transform computational medical science. The U.S. federal government has signaled its commitment to a quantum-enabled future and is providing significant support to this burgeoning field. Exciting applications of quantum technology include disease diagnosis, drug design, strategies for personalized medical intervention, and analysis of medical images. Below we will examine some of these promising applications and how today’s research on quantum algorithms could translate into tomorrow’s advanced treatment options for physicians and better outcomes for patients.

Quantum machine learning for health diagnostics and data

Medical diagnostics have benefited significantly from data-driven insights powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Quantum computing is expected to advance AI in the medical sciences by increasing the efficiency, accuracy, or speed of some ML methods. When used to holistically analyze medical data, it could enable doctors to spot new patterns in a patient’s medical history and suggest different (and perhaps better) treatments. For example, medical imaging—including CT, MRI, and X-ray scans—are crucial diagnostic tools. But the resolution of these images is often limited, and tumors or other abnormalities can be missed. Quantum computing has the potential to improve the analysis of medical images, improve image-guided diagnostic methods and reduce patient treatment times. Improvements like these would lead to more effective outcomes, lower costs, and give physicians more time to focus on what matters most: patient care.

Quantum simulation of protein folding

Quantum technology could also dramatically improve our understanding of protein folding. In recent years, computational biologists have written impressive algorithms to model the shape of proteins. These models allow scientists to better understand the body’s natural processes by illustrating how protein folding dictates biological interactions. However, these algorithms still lack the necessary precision to achieve the desired breakthroughs in personalized medicine. Future quantum computers could change that.

Scientists believe we will one day be able to capture the dynamics of larger and larger proteins computationally rather than experimentally, reducing the time and cost of delivering life-saving treatments to patients. In addition, the researchers hope to one day be able to more widely use the simulation capabilities of quantum computers to not only model protein structures, but also to simulate critical metabolic processes and ensure that therapeutics have their intended effect.

Design of small molecule drugs with hybrid quantum algorithms

Another exciting application of quantum computing is the simulation of small molecules. To develop new materials and chemicals, researchers typically evaluate thousands of chemical reactions and molecular interactions. Already today, quantum computers are being used in combination with cutting-edge neural networks to produce candidate small molecules – a type of biological compound that, due to their small size, can be rapidly absorbed by the body and are thus valuable drug species. Scientists believe that a future, more sophisticated quantum computer will be able to produce viable small molecule candidates for experimenters to synthesize and explore further. These simulations will allow biologists to focus their work on the most promising candidates, helping them conduct more efficient and accurate experiments. The ultimate downstream effect is breakthrough treatments for providers and patients.

The future of quantum healthcare

While quantum computing is still a few years away from realizing its full potential, it is gaining significant momentum across the healthcare and life sciences industry. With the promise of more efficient and reliable diagnostics, future breakthroughs in personalized medicine and targeted therapeutics, and an accelerated R&D lifecycle, industry leaders must be willing to invest in quantum technologies to achieve better outcomes for their organizations and patients.

Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images

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