Sooner than you might imagine, your doctor would be able to prescribe medication based on how ready your body will metabolize it as opposed to using rough cues like your weight and height. In the same vein, if you were to be diagnosed with cancer, instead of it being specific to the area in the body – diagnoses and treatments will be directly linked to a specific genetic mutation.
This nuanced approach to healthcare treatments often referred to as individualized, personalized or precision medicine isn’t as far-fetched as you might imagine. Some of the technologies necessary to enable precision medicine already exist, they, however, need to be tested, refined and made more inexpensive, so patients and doctors can make use of them regularly.
What is precision medicine?
Precision medicine is a fast developing approach for the prevention and treatment of disease that takes into account individual variability in the environment, lifestyle, and genes for each person. These techniques will allow researchers and doctors to diagnose more accurately which prevention and treatment techniques for a specific disease will work with each individual or group of individuals.
This is in direct contrast to the one-for-all approach where disease treatments and prevention strategies are developed for the average individual with no consideration for the differences that exist between individuals.
Even though the term precision medicine is fairly new, this concept has been a part of healthcare for a long time. For example, adding a patient who requires a blood transfusion is not randomly giving blood from any donors, instead, the donor’s blood type has to be matched to the patients to reduce the risk of complications. Similar examples can be found in other areas of medicine.
Unfortunately, presently the role of precision medicine in everyday healthcare is very limited. On the bright side, researchers predict that precision medicine will be used in many areas of health healthcare in the near future.
What are some of the potential benefits of precision medicine?
Precision medicine will provide healthcare professionals with new therapies, knowledge, and tools with which they can use to select treatments that work best for individual patients. Early successes in the application of precision medicine have demonstrated that insight into the molecular structure of a cancer cell can lead to therapies that target cancer cells without adversely affecting normal cells in the body.
In addition, precision medicine research could:
- Better integrate electronic healthcare records in patients’ care which will allow researchers and doctors to gain medical data more readily.
- Improve approaches to treating, preventing and addressing a broad range of medical conditions.
- Help researchers better understand the underlying cause of various diseases.
- Improved ability to predict the treatment that is best for individual patients.
- Allow doctors to harness patient molecular and genetic information in everyday medical care.
According to GIFTED Healthcare, “Precision medicine will be a game-changer at every level of healthcare delivery and at every stage of illnesses. It will challenge many treatment models enabling us to prevent diseases early rather than wait for the symptoms to appear first.”
How does precision medicine work?
With traditional medicine, researchers and scientists produce medication to treat a disease or its symptoms. These drugs are tested through clinical trials with large groups of individuals who have a specific disease. FDA only approves a drug when research results demonstrate that the benefits are more than the risks – that is, individuals who take this medication will get better and not worse, over the course of treatment. However, this doesn’t mean that the medication will work for every patient who takes it.
Precision medicine is more specific. With research conducted over the years, scientists have discovered more knowledge regarding the genetics that is behind the diseases and their function.
For example, when a patient is diagnosed with lung cancer, her doctor takes a sample of the tumour and sequences the genes found in the cell. Typically, they would only look at a handful of genes to find the mutation that is known to cause cancer – but with precision medicine, they would sequence all of the patient’s genes to get a better glimpse into the genetic factor that causes cancer.
Why precision medicine is the future of healthcare
Precision medicine offers a deeper understanding of human physiology with the use of data from detailed genetic insights. With precision medicine, doctors will be able to select treatments based on the genetic understanding of the patient’s disease in others to craft a very personalized treatment plan.
For example, the genes that cause cancer to grow and spread is different for individual patients across various stages. Presently, treatment comprises a combination of immunotherapy, radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery depending on the type of cancer, its stage, and size. Precision medicine with genetic changes and characterization can help narrow down specific personalized treatment plans with the knowledge that certain drugs are more effective for specific genetic profiles.