A high priority area for R&D is in diabetes, to develop continuous glucose monitors placed under the skin to communicate wirelessly with insulin pumps on the hip, connected to subcutaneous catheters for insulin delivery.
And for people with cancer, it may be possible for titrate chemotherapy infusions to determine the sensitivity of specific tumors, and once determined to be in remission or gone, patients could be monitored continually for any recurrence.
Smith likens these technologies to the "electrical system in a new car that sounds an alarm or turns a dashboard light red if something isn't right. If we can have all this information about our cars, why shouldn't we demand such about the health of our own bodies?"
Of course, he acknowledges self-effacingly, some people might think of him as a "cockeyed optimist." He knows there are barriers. There could be false positives or negatives, privacy issues, malfunctions. OK. "But just because there may be limitations does not mean we shouldn't try to go down that road," he says.
Smith left his position as vice president of emerging technologies with Johnson & Johnson in Minnesota this spring to move to the institute, a fledgling organization funded with $100 million so far by philanthropists Gary and Mary West. The institute expects to have 80 to 100 employees by January 2011.