Classical computers make use of bits or electrical/optical pulses represented by 1 and 0. The binary digits form practically everything we virtually come across, from emails, tweets, to songs and videos. Quantum computers, contrarily, run on qubits or subatomic particles like electrons and photons. 

The power of quantum computing 

Our present science and engineering knowledge make it challenging to generate and maintain qubits. In order to keep qubits in a controlled quantum state for functioning, some companies (i.e., Google, IBM) choose to use superconducting circuits to keep them in extremely low temperatures. While others (i.e., IonQ) will suspend them in electromagnetic fields on a silicon chip in highly vacuum chambers. 

In short, qubits represent many combinations of 1 and 0 at once. This capability to exist in multiple states simultaneously is known as superposition. Precision lasers or microwave beams are two ways which researchers could superposition qubits. Sometimes, researchers would also entwine pairs of qubits, making the duo exist in one quantum state. Known as entanglement, over here when the state of one qubit changes, it will promptly change the state of the other too, regardless if they may be separated by some distance. 

These properties ascertain qubits’ processing power; tremendously cutting down the amount of time classical computers require to solve classes of problems. As of now, quantum computers are foreseen to be most useful in the simulation of matter behavior as well as optimization, or churning out the many possible solutions in a really short period of time. 

In spite so, due to a shortage of experts and appropriate infrastructure to get the domain going, it would be some time before we can fully enjoy the full benefit brought about by quantum computing. As such, the more appropriate buzz word at the moment should be “affect” rather than “change” because it is unclear whether quantum computing will really change everything we have been doing with classical computers. 

Quantum computing and medicine 

Yet, there has been a growing number of quantum technology firms raising money from private investors, kicking off some form of a “gold-rush”. In medicine, a general assumption would be quantum computing could accelerate medical breakthroughs. Since it is able to process many different problems of various magnitude at an incredible rate. New medicines and treatments may be discovered in no time under quantum computing. 

More specifically, an exceptionally personalized or specific radiology plan may be feasible. Often, it is challenging to devise a plan using radiation beams to kill off cancerous cells or keep them from multiplying while ensuring surrounding health tissues and body parts are not affected. With quantum computing, the plan may now undertake many different variables and keeping many considerations for the quickest and most appropriate outcome. 

Likewise, quantum computing improves present MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines by making them look at single or groups of molecules rather than the whole body; rendering clinicians a more precise measurement and accurate picture for diagnosis. 

As mentioned, quantum computing permits simulation of matter behavior and complex molecular interactions at the atomic level. This will facilitate the comparison of larger molecules and also model how all of the proteins within human genome would interact with existing or new drugs. All these would potentially shorten the number of years required to develop and test new medications. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) could be facilitated by quantum computing in a way that more data can be processed at once. As more permutations of data being considered, it will be easier for physicians to underlie the most desirable patterns that best describe a patient and his/her condition based on given information. At the same time, quantum encryption may offer better protection of personal information. 

Should we expect a quantum gold-rush in medicine? Maybe but not immediately. Quantum computing may not be of value to medicine if there is not enough clinically meaningful data being made available. At this point in time, we can only point to respective quantum computing research and speculate how it may improve different domains of medicine. Ultimately, regardless of how advanced medicine is going to be, nothing will replace the kind of rapport, trust, and transparency between a human physician and patient. 


Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.