Panel debate 2

Panel debate 2 – Coming to a vet near you soon

The second panel debate of the Symposium considered technologies that are currently in the pipeline. The three members of this panel were also asked to briefly introduce themselves and the technology they were developing.

Iain MacLaren-Lee

Iain MacLaren-Lee of Oxford Nanopore Technologies showed delegates the pocket-sized genome sequencer developed by the company and explained how it worked. Its size, he said, meant it could go anywhere, and be used to analyse samples taken from people and animals in a range of situations. For example, it had already been used to help track the Zika and Ebola virus outbreaks and it had been tested on the International Space Station.

Attention was now focused on making the device even smaller, so that rather than attaching the sequencer to a PC to collect the data, it could be attached to a mobile phone. In parallel, work was ongoing to miniaturise the technology for extracting and processing DNA to produce the sample for the sequencer.

Iain MacLaren-Lee of Oxford Nanopore Technologies showed delegates the pocket-sized genome sequencer developed by the company and explained how it worked. Its size, he said, meant it could go anywhere, and be used to analyse samples taken from people and animals in a range of situations.

Ultimately, he said, it would be possible to carry all the technology needed to sequence an organism’s genome in a pocket. It would be possible for a farmer to record the entire genome of a calf on a smartphone  simply by using a small piece of tissue collected when the calf’s ear tags were applied.

Dr Payam Barnaghi

Payam Barnaghi, Reader in Machine Intelligence at the University of Surrey, highlighted the potential of 5G technology. He explained that, previously, there had been a great deal of emphasis on the speed of communication and also on making communication possible at any time and in any place. However, with the growth of the ‘internet of things’ – whereby sensors are placed on devices to allow them to be connected to the internet – increasing amounts of data were also being collected and processed and networks were reaching the stage where the speed of data processing was also becoming important.

Payam Barnaghi, Reader in Machine Intelligence at the University of Surrey, highlighted the potential of 5G technology. He explained that, previously, there had been a great deal of emphasis on the speed of communication and also on making communication possible at any time and in any place.

5G was partly about improving the speed and reach of communication, he said, but it was also looking at making better use of the capacity of networks and differentiating between the types of traffic, to accommodate the increasing use of internet-enabled devices.

He gave an example of a project evaluating the use of network-enabled sensors to monitor people with dementia. Data collected from a range of sensors could be used to teach a machine what was ‘normal’ for an individual. The machine could then monitor data coming in from the remote sensors and raise an alert if there was any deviation from that norm.

Dr Adam Little

The third panellist was Adam Little, Director of Veterinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University, who had spoken earlier during the Symposium. He commented that many people and companies shared the concept of a ‘connected vision’, using data to inform products and services. How it all came together and who would win and who would lose would be interesting, he said. Entrepreneurs who might be able to see how to use the data that could be collected by a new technology, had to figure out how to get people to use the technology in the first place. He believed that vets underestimated how good some new technologies could be for them and how they could help them use their skills in ways that they could not currently imagine.

During the question and answers session, delegates were interested in the problem of ‘data overload’ . One delegate asked how, in a 10-minute consultation, a vet could be expected evaluate all the data that could potentially be made available. In response, Dr Barnaghi commented that if a technology actually increased workload, then it was not solving a problem in the right way. It was essential that technology solved a problem in a way that was useful.

He believed that vets underestimated how good some new technologies could be for them and how they could help them use their skills in ways that they could not currently imagine.

Dr Little added that the veterinary business model and the vetting process would have to evolve to accommodate the availability of data.

Other questions asked for the panellists’ views on the challenges of integrating big data and using it in a way that benefitted the end user, who should own the data being generated, and whether a RCVS could take action against vets who did not keep up with technology and big data developments.

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