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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

World Government Summit: A third of people who live to 50 will 'die before they reach 75'

Many people carry deadly diseases like cancer without knowing it, genome expert Craig Venter warns

Craig Venter, co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Human Longevity, speaks at the Dubai summit's Redesigning Longevity session. Reem Mohammed / The National
Craig Venter, co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Human Longevity, speaks at the Dubai summit's Redesigning Longevity session. Reem Mohammed / The National

Advances in medical technology will soon allow the detection of diseases even in people who believe they are completely healthy, the World Government Summit in Dubai heard today.

Killer diseases like cancer, brain aneurysms and Alzheimers often go undetected before the symptoms become evident, according to Craig Venter, a leading US geneticist and expert in human longevity.

Around one in a hundred people are not aware they have the clinical signs of a brain aneurysm, while five per cent of the population could be carrying an undetected cancerous tumour, Dr Venter told the World Government Forum.

Advances in the technology of medicine and using genetic data means it will soon be possible to detect potentially fatal conditions and eliminate or treat them well before they begin to cause problems, he said.

Currently around a third of people who live to the age of 50 will die before they reach 75, a statistic that applies to nearly 40 per cent of men and a quarter of women.

“Medicine today is if you have some symptoms, you go have those symptoms checked out and find out if you have a disease,” Dr Venter said. “Sometimes that can be late stage cancer." Heart disease and the symptoms of strokes also often go undetected, he said.

Human Longevity, the company founded by Dr Venter in 2014, has concentrated its research on people who believe they are healthy, studying their genetic make up and using the latest technologies, including MRI machines that can find cancerous tumours at a stage when they were previously undetectable.

“About five per cent of people have a major tumour that they are not aware of,” he said. “They think they are healthy.”

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People “don’t get cancer the day before they are diagnosed,” Dr Venter said. “We carry cancers sometimes for months, sometimes for years before they grow big enough to cause problems."

In the case of brain aneurysms, scanning will be able to detect problems and allow them to be treated as an outpatient.

With Alzheimers, he predicted that advances in screening and predictions based on an individual's genetic code would allow doctors to predict when symptoms are likely to manifest themselves “almost to the month”.

Better detection would allow people to live longer and healthier lives, he said, and potentially also save governments and health services billions, "if not trillions of dollars" because treatment would be less invasive and therefor less expensive.

Updated: February 11, 2018 04:24 PM

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