Scientists can now tell how healthy you are by the colour of your nose

Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

A person’s colour can be a significant indicator of health.

And that’s not just general complexion, the health of otherwise of the skin. The changing colour of cells tells a story of the health of an individual.

“We use colour in everyday life,” says Ewa M. Goldys, Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics.

“You pick up the fruit: is it ripe or not ripe? The same applies to the colour of biological characteristics. The metabolism, the way the body uses and consumes energy, that is a different colour.”

Cells in the nose will change colour, indicating the type of disease in the brain, and the level of neural degeneration.

“There are cells in the olfactory system, your nose, accessible to an endoscope, who actually know what’s happening in your brain,” says Professor Goldys, from Macquarie University.

“They are window into your brain. So if you stop smelling smells, go and see your doctor.”

Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Professor Goldys was speaking as a panelist at a Business Insider event in Sydney called Health & Technology Frontiers. The research into using the colour of cells has just been published in the journal BBA Molecular Cell Research.

What she describes in a part of the emerging field of personalised medicine.

“It’s a complicated system,” she says. “The big picture for scientists is to find out how every single molecule works … it’s a huge data set.”

David Hansen, CEO of the Australian e-Health Research Centre, agrees that big data will change the face of health in Australia.

“We now have a number of technologies and programs which are starting to get out of the research and into delivery,” he says.

“An example is our patient admission prediction tool (used in Queensland) which predicts how many patients are going to turn up.

“That’s based on historical data and that comes back to the issues around data and making sure you have access to that data. The clinicians that we are working with want to know how many patients will be readmitted and the likelihood of being readmitted within 48 hours.”

Sean Hogan, global vice president of health for IBM, says there need to be trust between researchers and industry to ensure advances in health care.

“The notion of collaboration is important; respect, integrity and trust,” he says.

“So often when industry is invited into the equation it is often for procurement driven processes. And often government procurement is really designed on the basis: we don’t trust each other.”

However, he says industry brings a way of looking at an investment, of ensuring that it is providing the right outcome and value.

“That’s a good discipline when we are all dealing with scarce resources. Many of the underlying characteristics of our health system don’t ultimately promote that pursuit of value,” he says.

“What is exciting now is the level of data that can help us persecute those questions in greater detail. We can understand costs better. We can understand outcomes at a better level and with much greater transparency. With that information, that transparency, that allows us to approach the question of trust in a different way. And if we can enter into a dialogue of trust I think we can really see a much greater opportunity for innovation and a real outcome benefit.”

Patrick Brennan, an imaging specialist and co-director of BREAST, says there needs to be a bigger emphasis and leadership in universities to promote collaboration between researchers and industry.

“Perhaps people in universities aren’t sufficiently nimble to be able to react to opportunities,” he says.

“Certainly the systems in universities can slow … and quite rightly industry get a little frustrated at how slowly universities respond to opportunities. Another area is the recognition that people are different.”

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