Personalized medicine, or precision medicine, has brought about new ways to diagnose and treat diseases. The concept behind personalized medicine is that not everyone responds the same way to any given condition. Diseases may express themselves differently in different populations depending on a range of factors. Those factors include the environment, lifestyle, and genome structure.
Taking these factors into consideration when treating patients has the potential to change the way we think about medicine altogether. If we think about the normal process of treating an ailment, a patient goes to the doctor, the doctor takes the patient’s vital signs, discusses symptoms, and proceeds to make a diagnosis, and then, frequently, prescribes some type of medication to treat the disease. In personalized medicine, the process focuses on treating the patient rather than treating the disease. By incorporating an understanding of system biology, or the interactions between the molecules, cells, and organs of the body, and the genetic makeup of diseases and the patient doctors can prescribe customized medication to the individual rather than assuming what works for one will work for all.
While this medical model is relatively new, it has shown promise in treating several conditions, most notably cancer. It started with HER-2+ breast cancer and has since progressed to being used to treat leukemia, lung cancer, and melanoma. “Knowing the genetic composition of certain forms of leukemia is proving to be very effective in identifying specific changes that occur during its propagation,” claims chief of clinical laboratory genetics at the University of Toronto, Dr. Suzanne Kamal-Reid.
Even though the concept of precision medicine started with cancer, it has since progressed to help treat a variety of other conditions such as respiratory disorders, infections, and immunology. As the field has advanced, it has focused on identifying biomarkers. The presence of biomarkers can help doctors and researchers determine the likelihood that an individual will be afflicted with certain types of diseases or infections. The field of pharmacogenomics seeks to use our understanding of genetic variations and their connection to drug response. Using genetic tests to help determine treatment can allow doctors to prescribe the most effective drugs to patients early on in their treatment rather than using trial and error to find the right medication for the individual. This has the potential to reduce medical expenses and leads to fewer adverse side effects for the patient.
As the field of precision medicine continues to evolve, we are likely to discover more potential uses. The future of medicine is much more personalized and hopefully effective than it has ever been.