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BioVision is a one-of-a-kind life science event held every two years in the beautiful city of Lyon, otherwise known as the gastronomic capital of France. BioVision brings together scientists, policy makers and decision makers from both government and industry, as well as representatives of everyday people. The group convened again March 27–29, 2011 to examine the role of life science in the future of humankind, from the perspectives of health, nutrition, and the environment, all of which are essential for our quality of life.

BioVision distinguishes itself by its unique format – in addition to traditional lecture-style presentations by high profile scientist (it is perhaps one of the few events in the world at which so many Nobel Laureates are together in the same room), the round table format in which pertinent social, economic, and ethical issues are raised and discussed by high ranking officials and key representatives contributes to the distinctive flair of BioVision. This might be as close as one gets to a sumptuous table of food-for-thought.

Health, a right for all human beings, at any price?

  1. Top of page
  2. Health, a right for all human beings, at any price?
  3. Nutrition: How will we be fed in 2020?
  4. Environment and CO2
  5. Preparing for healthcare 3.0
  6. A few closing words
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

Of the three scientific pillars of BioVision, health was a specific focus of my attendance, as red (medical) biotechnology, is of particular interest to Biotechnology Journal. The various scientific and round table discussions seem to suggest that we are indeed at the dawn of truly personalized medicine. In the session “From systems biology to personalized medicine”, chaired by Charles Auffray (European Institute for Systems Biology & Medicine France), Leroy Hood (Institute of Systems Biology, Seattle, USA) presented an inspiring summary of systems biology from the beginning, current status, and what the future holds. Prof. Hood describes four paradigm changes that brought us to where we are today, where personalized medicine is becoming a reality, namely:

i. High-throughput biology i.e. bringing engineering to biology;

ii. The human genome project;

iii. Cross-disciplinary biology;

iv. Systems biology

Prof. Hood urged us to perceive disease with a systems approach in that the human body should be seen as a network of interactions that are perturbed during diseased states. Prof. Hood envisages a future where biomarkers would allow us to use the blood as a window to a person's health status, with longitudinal tracking allowing each patient to be his/her own reference point. It is apparent that extensive data banking is a prerequisite for this: Anthony Brookes (Leicester University, UK) presented the European project, GEN2PHEN – an internet network portal designed to put together different silos of information linking genotype to phenotype. Prof. Brookes also described Bio-SHaRE, which is designed to harmonize, standardize, implement and utilize biobanking research tools. Prof. Brookes envisages tomorrow's healthcare as being able to overcome inherent limitation of one doctor's ability to process the available information and where the informational toolbox will be integrated into a doctor's decision making process.

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Systems biology Talk2: Leroy Hood © BioVision/Vincent Dargent

Synthesis of information is clearly an important step in achieving medicine that is truly personalized. In the round table session “Defining a roadmap for systems medicine” moderated by Dominique Charron (Inserm, h�pital Saint Louis, France), both Denis Noble (University of Oxford, UK) and William Hait (Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals Group) highlighted the importance of using genomics in understanding why some drugs may be particularly suited to groups of patients while being detrimental to others. The same sentiments were shared by Jean-Yves Blay (European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer, France), who shared data with us on the use of genomic data for cancer treatment, in which molecular typing of the tumour/patients gave rise to significant effects for long term survival in a select group of patients. Prof. Blay further highlighted the need for global collaboration in rare diseases.

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Biofuels from biomass Round table © BioVision/Vincent Dargent

A holistic approach to disease is essential for successful personalized medicine. Zhu Chen (Systems Biomedicine Center, Shanghai; Health Minister, China) gave us an informative overview of how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is perhaps the original systems approach to medicine in that its emphasis is essentially on harmony of the body in a holistic manner. While TCM has its drawbacks in that it is not suitable for severe trauma, is an empirical practice without fundamental mechanistic understanding, and quite literally “difficult to swallow”, Western medicine on the other hand, with its increased specialization and a tendency for discipline fragmentation has also its limitations. In addition to presenting scientific data from his laboratory on TCM, Minister Prof. Chen also briefly discussed China's ambitious plan of healthcare for all by 2020; it is likely to greatly boost development of personalized medicine in the sheer number of participants it will bring. Of course, numbers alone is not sufficient, there must be also a willingness and openness to participate from the patients themselves. On this note, Sonia Abdelhak (Institut Pasteur Tunis, Tunisia) brought our attention to the study of orphan genetic disease in Tunisia and some of the cultural barriers in carrying out these studies. This reluctance in participation perhaps has no borders: for example in France where there are no economic barriers to HIV-testing, the number of tests performed remains lower than expected, as highlighted by Fran�oise Barré-Sinoussi (INSERM, France). Similarly Olga Georgina Martínez Monta�ez (Ministry of Health, Mexico) highlighted the challenges in early detection of cancers in Mexico.

Nutrition: How will we be fed in 2020?

  1. Top of page
  2. Health, a right for all human beings, at any price?
  3. Nutrition: How will we be fed in 2020?
  4. Environment and CO2
  5. Preparing for healthcare 3.0
  6. A few closing words
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

A vital component of health is nutrition, after all, there is a grain (or more) of truth to the old saying: “you are what you eat”. There are obviously two vital components of nutrition – quantity and quality.

When it comes to feeding the 9 billion people expected in 2050, the scientific session “For more food – better food” several prominent scientists shared with us their insights. Donald Ort (University of Urbana-Champaign, USA) outlined the challenges facing the world in increasing crop yields and biomass. There are many sources of challenge to crop yield, including reduced productivity and alternative demands such as biofuels that compete for arable land. When it comes to crop yield the obvious weakest link is the efficiency of photosynthesis, and one method of increasing this is through growing plants at increased CO2 concentrations.

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Four Nobel Prize Winners © BioVision/Vincent Dargent

While it is important to increase crop yields, how can we do so in a sustainable manner that gives the environment the respect it deserves? Hervé Guyomard (INRA, France) highlighted other problems that are not only to do with supply but also with demand, in that how can we better distribute the food, provide access to food, and also modify the consumption habits of the developed world. Furthermore when it comes to the environment, Dr. Guyomard presented the “integrated pest management (IPM)” concept, the six components of which include determining acceptable pest levels, establishing preventative practices, careful monitoring, mechanical controls, biological controls and responsible pesticide use.

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BioVision, next fellows © BioVision/Vincent Dargent

Quantity alone is unlikely to solve our food supply problems. There is a clear growing concurrence of obesity and malnutrition, as 60% of mortality in 2005 worldwide results from chronic diseases (WHO data) that may be preventable by lifestyle changes. Cathie Martin (John Innes Center, Norwich, UK) gave excellent examples of how genetic modification of plants may help alleviate this problem. Prof. Martin's laboratory identified anthocyanins as the active compound in blood oranges that prevents weight gain and offers cardioprotection in experimental animals.

Environment and CO2

  1. Top of page
  2. Health, a right for all human beings, at any price?
  3. Nutrition: How will we be fed in 2020?
  4. Environment and CO2
  5. Preparing for healthcare 3.0
  6. A few closing words
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

Having discussed health and nutrition, another vital component to our quality of life is our environment. In the scientific session “Impacts of oceans, forests and agriculture on the carbon cycle”, chaired by Chris Bowler (ENS Paris, France), who gave an engrossing summary of the challenges facing our environment today, Simon Lewis (University of Leeds, UK) drew our attention to the conditions of our forests and its intimate link with the amount of CO2 in the air and noted that the carbon stored in trees is not permanent. For example, a drought can significantly affect the ability of trees to absorb CO2. Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez (University of Southampton, UK) gave us some sobering information on ocean acidification.

Preparing for healthcare 3.0

  1. Top of page
  2. Health, a right for all human beings, at any price?
  3. Nutrition: How will we be fed in 2020?
  4. Environment and CO2
  5. Preparing for healthcare 3.0
  6. A few closing words
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

BioVision is perhaps one of the best forums to discuss the future of healthcare. In the round table session “Preparing for healthcare 3.0: Thinking outside of the box”, key figures from government, academia and industry brought to the table what might be needed to meet the demands of the future.

Several speakers pointed to the importance of education. Olivier Raynaud (Health Initiatives, World Economic Forum) clearly pointed out that the direction of today's healthcare is by no means optimal nor sustainable. In many developed countries, healthcare costs encompasses some 10-15% of GDP and growing, while still not meeting the healthcare needs of its citizens. Dr. Raynaud also highlighted the need for education and prevention, and the World Economic Forum's program on using the workplace to distribute health-related information. On the role of the employer and the workplace, Petra Laux (Novartis) shared with the audience the Novartis experience of focusing on the wellbeing of its employees as statistics show that 30% of employees suffer from episodes each year due to chronic diseases that result from lifestyle choices such as poor diet and lack of exercise. Ms. Laux also pointed out that the workplace canteen should be the place where employees receive healthy food at a reasonable price (see also [1] for more discussion on the topic of healthy eating habits).

Fran�oise Barré-Sinoussi (Institut Pasteur, Inserm, Paris, France) presented his perspectives from 30 years in HIV research, throughout which HIV has become a chronic but manageable disease. This is a clear example of where scientific progress alone is not enough and requires collaboration from all parts of society in order to effect change in our attitudes, which would encourage testing and remove the social stigma associated with disease.

Finally, Valerie Pecresse (Minister for Higher Education and Research, France) shared with us a research plan of France that is very much focused on health. Mrs. Pecresse elegantly summarized the needs of tomorrow's medicine in that we need to break down boundaries between disciplines and that the collaboration between all fields is critical and that communication is the key to this.

A few closing words

  1. Top of page
  2. Health, a right for all human beings, at any price?
  3. Nutrition: How will we be fed in 2020?
  4. Environment and CO2
  5. Preparing for healthcare 3.0
  6. A few closing words
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

The unique flavor of BioVision is perhaps difficult to convey in a few pages; however, I hope that this brief coverage has provided a tastes of what it is like to be part of BioVision. Sometimes as scientists and editors, we tend to focus on our particular scientific topic and the bigger picture is not necessarily what we have in mind all the time. But as the loveable rat in the movie Ratatouille famously said, “each flavor is totally unique, but combine one flavor with another, and something new is created”. Similarly, every discipline has its important place but only with communication and collaboration will we be able to create a sustainable future.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Health, a right for all human beings, at any price?
  3. Nutrition: How will we be fed in 2020?
  4. Environment and CO2
  5. Preparing for healthcare 3.0
  6. A few closing words
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

The author would like to thank Aurélie Bellemin and the BioVision team for their generous support and critical reading of this report.