The big future of life sciences innovation means thinking small. Forbes magazine now has a list of the 30 “disruptors” under 30 in 12 different fields. In the sciences category, individuals whose work touches on DNA or genetics research dominate the field.
Forbes selected as its featured science innovator Daniela Witten, 27, a University of Washington biostatistics professor. Witten is developing artificial intelligence programs with life science applications. The programs could decipher how genes lead to disease.
Witten isn’t the only one translating DNA research into new medical innovation. Ryan Tewhey, 29, a University of California, San Diego graduate student who is using DNA sequencing to determine what makes MRSA so deadly and hard to kill. Ciara Metcalf, 28, a postdoctoral fellow at Genentech, is studying stem cells in the intestine to search for new drugs. Harvard graduate student Marc Lajoie, 26, is researching new methods to change an organism’s genes, a move toward genome engineering. Jeffrey Kidd, 28, a University of Michigan human genetics professor, is using DNA sequencing to understand what forces shape human and animal evolution.
Disease detection based on a patient’s genes also figures prominently and fits in with the trend toward personalized medicine approaches to patient diagnosis and treatment. Sarah Ng, 27, a graduate student at the University of Washington, is using DNA sequencing to find genes that cause rare diseases. Rizia Bardhan, 29, a postdoctoral candidate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is researching nanoparticles that can diagnose or treat disease. UCLA graduate student Albert Mach has developed a centrifuge on a chip that could become a speedy cancer detection blood test.
Some of the named innovators and their innovations are now at companies. Uri Laserson, 28, founded Good Start Genetics, whose DNA sequencing technology tests for genetic diseases parents might pass on to their children. Raj Krishnan, 29, is CEO of Biological Dynamics, which is developing blood tests that use electric fields to detect cancer. But for the most part, the innovation featured by Forbes is still at the university stage. That means that this work will set the stage for a coming wave of technology transfer centered on DNA technologies. Life science companies and investors are already starting to embrace personalized medicine as a key component of medicine’s future. This list gives a glimpse of what some of that future could look like.