The talk of quantum computing is everywhere. The idea of supercomputers operating at speeds unheard of from the computers worked with day-to-day has been going on for quite a while — and even though it sounds more like fiction, it is, in fact, very close to (if not already) a reality.
Quantum computing completely redefines our understanding of the digital world — the world of 0’s and 1’s and how data is continuously transmitted. It also makes lofty promises of transformation and revolution — industry to industry, sector to sector, field to field. From finance to problem-solving and business operations, quantum computing promises to open new doors for faster, more nimble, almost surreal efficiencies — and healthcare is no exception to this rule.
But to be able to truly fathom the impact quantum computing will potentially have on the world of healthcare, let’s look at how quantum computing works at its core first.
You might be wondering how different quantum computers are from the computers that you know and lean on. It turns out that the difference between the two is very fundamental. Regular computers operate based on certainty: Everything is black or white, while data is represented in a sequence in bits, in a sequence of 0’s and 1’s. For current computers, there are only two certain states for the bits — they can take on the states of either 0 or 1. This is also why the system is known as binary due to the duality of its nature.
With quantum computers, however, the story is completely different. Quantum computers operate on the exact opposite of regular computers — they rely on uncertainty in the process and probability. Quantum computers do not use bits but qubits, which can take on more than one state at a time. Essentially, instead of having a clear position, qubits can come as 0, 1, or both — a phenomenon known as “superposition.”
So how does this apply directly to solutions and how will it impact healthcare specifically?
One sure application when we get to the more practical stage of quantum computing will be leveraging the computers’ ability to lead operations as well as conduct analysis and solutions at superspeeds. The healthcare and pharma industries are notoriously encumbered with slow and costly trial processes that affect the turnaround times for drug development and implementation.
While there have been efforts to speed these processes up through AI, machine learning and other cutting-edge technologies, quantum computing opens a different set of possibilities for them to reach the next level and cut down on months and even years of research and experimentation. A quantum computer can allow looking into every known type of molecule at unprecedented speeds, test drug compositions on any cell known to humans — and all in the shortest time imaginable. Quantum computing will be another tool that can be used to find answers to such diseases as Parkinson’s, cancer and other ailments that take away so many lives every day.
While testing on living organisms and cells is one way to advance achievements in the pharma and healthcare space, quantum computing can also enable a new type of experimentation and testing that is not feasible today due to the limitations of the current technology. Known as in silico clinical trials, these experiments are conducted in a completely simulated environment. According to the Medical Futurist, what quantum computing can do is fuel the creation of virtual environments where professionals will be able to analyze variables like body fluids, circulation, electrolytes, hormones, metabolism and skin temperature on digital replicas of humans.
And then there is the intricate world of genetics and genomics that has made full strides in the past few decades. What started as a quest to decode the human DNA has now turned into a rich space of exploration, where people have the ability to identify their health risks and even trace their ancestry back to their origins. Quantum computing will no doubt further this leap and allow for infinitely faster analysis and accurate predictions of potential genetic illnesses, making it possible to take preventative action ahead of time and gain a deeper understanding of genetic composition in as little time as possible.
All in all, the processing power that quantum computing promises opens the door to the goal that the healthcare and pharma industries have long sought out. That goal is to be predictive and preventative, rather than reactive and delayed. While today, most sophisticated technologies allow to cure a large variety of conditions, it is hoped for quantum computing and its incredible power to foresee and effectively uproot such conditions ahead of time. The amount of data generated day-to-day — and the amount of specific patient data already available — will create a fertile ground for the quantum machines to do their work and produce valuable and in-depth analysis that will not only help contribute to curing but aid in preventing certain diseases.
Originally published in Forbes