Quantum computing in health care

Richard Feynman (1918–1988), an American theoretical physicist, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics. He was a keen popularizer of physics through both books and lectures. His famous comment about quantum mechanics was, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

Three decades after Feynman’s untimely death a group of physicists came to understand at least some of quantum mechanics and demonstrated the feasibility of quantum computers on 19 September 2019 at Google’s headquarters. The impact that quantum computing will have on health care is difficult to grasp, but it may be a tool, perhaps the best tool, to increase our understanding of the intricacies of genomics, individuals’ physiology, pharmacology, and several other areas of medicine and health care.

I have absolutely no understanding of quantum mechanics or its practical application to the development of a quantum computer. However, searching the Internet on my traditional computer I found a partial list of where in medicine and medical practice quantum computing may lead to major breakthroughs.

In radiotherapy, the quantum computer may allow simulations of the optimal radiation plan to minimize damage to surrounding tissues and body parts.

In drug research, the quantum computer could save years of development time and billions of dollars in the complex work of drug design, potentially advancing the search for cures for a range of disorders. In addition, modeling molecular interactions of proteins encoded in the human genome may lead to new drugs.

In diagnostics research and disease screening, the quantum computer may be able to collect large amounts of patient data using pattern recognition; it may also significantly improve artificial intelligence in machines.

In imaging, quantum sensors may improve MRI machines to be able to look at the molecular level, giving clinicians more accurate images.

In genomic medicine, quantum computers may lead to quick sequencing of DNA, opening up the possibility of personalized medicine.

In the still-not-well-understood area of protein folding, these computers may lead to new therapies.

In health care data collection, quantum mechanics and the related computer power may assist on several levels, including with data storage, data transmission, and data security.

I don’t expect to ever grasp the essentials of quantum mechanics. I have difficulties just sending an email using my relatively new ordinary computer. I am humbled just to consider the potential for developments in health care by way of quantum computers.
—Geoge Szasz, CM, MD

Additional reading
Raudaschl A. Quantum computing and health care. BMJ technology blog. Accessed 10 October 2019. https://blogs.bmj.com/technology/2017/11/03/quantum-computing-and-health....

This blog post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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