Medicine has traditionally been a world of “one size fits all.” Take, for example, the treatment of heart disease. With very few exceptions every patient diagnosed with heart disease will be treated in an almost identical fashion: prescribed the same medications, to be taken at the same doses, in the same ways, with roughly the same side effects.
The vast majority of medications in use today have not been created for a specific person, they’ve been created for the “average person.” However, there are a lot of people who are not average, who have certain conditions, or medical histories, or genetic dispositions. In fact, the variation in how a particular drug affects a range of people can be quite extensive.
Imagine if, instead of taking drugs that were designed for the average person, patients could be prescribed medications that were tailored just for them – individualized medicines that were developed for their own unique body chemistry. Imagine further if this new medication allowed patients to live longer while experiencing fewer side-effects, because it was created especially for that individual.
Personal Healthcare through Precision Medicine
Until now most medical treatments have been designed using a model that assumes every patient is pretty much the same. Precision medicine does the exact opposite: It assumes that everyone is different and goes out of its way to spot those differences in our genes, our environments, and even our lifestyles, using that information to create treatments that are tailored to a person’s bodies.
Precision medicine is a relatively new branch of science, but it is already being used in revolutionary ways with the creation of new treatments for diseases like cancer and cystic fibrosis. It is a field of medicine still in its infancy, yet the possible applications for precision medicine are endless.
In 2015, President Barack Obama announced the creation of a new precision medicine initiative, a project that was the first of its kind with goals of creating “a bold new research effort to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease.”
As part of this new, $200 million initiative, private businesses, hospitals, technology companies, and healthcare agencies across the country have come together to invest in the future of precision medicine. This includes collaborations between agencies like the National Institute of Health, the American Medical Association, Harvard Medical School, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IBM, and Microsoft to name just a few.
Apart from developing new treatments for diseases, many of the projects being carried out around precision medicine are focusing on making it easier for patients to access and share their own digital health data, using data and technology to increase patient participation and making sure that the successes made in precision medicine are available and accessible to everyone.
Can precision medicine really make a difference?
Advances in precision medicine have already led to powerful discoveries in the treatment of cancer. Patients with breast, lung, or colorectal cancer, as well as some leukemias, have already started to enjoy the benefits of precision medicine. It is now routine for patients with these diagnoses to undergo molecular testing (testing of their DNA) to let doctors know if their genes make them compatible to receive special treatments that will improve their chances of survival and reduce side effects.
But what about diseases like mesothelioma? Mesothelioma is treated like other cancers where techniques in precision medicine are being used to look at information from the human genome to see if it can be harnessed to develop new treatments. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that every patient’s cancer is controlled by their own unique combination of DNA changes, meaning that the cancer cells in one person do not necessarily look or behave like cancer cells in another. This is known as a “tumor profile,” and by using this personal profile, future treatments for mesothelioma could be tailored to each individual, giving them a better chance of fighting the disease.
Precision medicine is a rapidly evolving field with a lot of promise and excitement. Many scientists believe that we’re only at the beginning of this revolutionary area and that the applications for personalized medicine are limitless. Certainly, precision medicine provides yet another possible route to ultimately creating a cure for mesothelioma, and even cancer in general.
In the future, precision medicine will let healthcare providers tailor their treatment and prevention strategies to a patient’s unique characteristics, including their DNA sequence, health history, lifestyle, and diet. It has already started to challenge the way we think about traditional treatments and changed ideas on what patients now expect from their doctors. With new funding, innovative projects, and advancements in medical technology, precision medicine has the ability to become the new standard in patient diagnosis and treatment in years to come.