William Osler, often called the founding father of modern medicine, said, “Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.” That was back in the mid-1800s. If Osler were alive today, he’d be impressed by how medicine is becoming more of a science and less of an art.
This is due to personalized medicine, which forgoes the one-size-fits-all approach and focuses on the individual down to our genetic and genomic makeup and how that drives health, illness, and drug responses in each person. By studying what makes us unique, doctors can provide us with more accurate diagnoses, safer drug prescriptions, ways to prevent disease, and more effective treatments.
A good example of personalized medicine is to look at how doctors diagnose and treat breast cancer. With traditional medicine, doctors looked at the affected organ. With personalized medicine, scientists study detailed information on the cellular level to learn about aberrations that are driving a particular disease.
Personalized medicine also takes that a step further with next generation sequencing (NGS). Actress Angelina Jolie wrote about having a faulty gene called BRCA1, which sharply increased her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Jolie’s mother died from cancer. Her doctors estimated that she had an 87 percent risk of getting breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer. While that risk is different in each woman, Jolie went ahead with preventive double mastectomy surgery.
Much like Jolie, you’ll be able to access, monitor, and control your own health before getting sick. That’s because personalized medicine is patient-centered. Your doctors will be able to identify more accurately if you are at risk of a serious illness. Your biomarkers provide information as to whether you’re at risk of getting dementia, macular degeneration, certain cancers, stroke, diabetes, and other diseases.
Pharmaceutical companies are using biomarkers to develop drugs. The next step is for us to use biomarker data as a form of preventive medicine. We can do this by working closely with our doctors.
Personalized medicine is changing the doctor/patient relationship. Instead of just listening to and following our doctor’s orders, we are taking an active role in our health. On one hand, it’s not a major leap for us to take charge. Many of us use smartphone apps and fitness trackers that monitor our steps and the number of calories we burn. These devices also track our heart rate, how well we sleep, and provide blood pressure readings.
By having access to our medical data, personalized medicine will allow us to:
• Take an active role in our healthcare
• Predict the likelihood of developing a disease
• Improve detection of a disease
• Preempt the progression of an illness
• Work with medical professionals to customize prevention and treatment
• Enable doctors to prescribe more effective medicines and treatments
• Help doctors avoid prescribing drugs with predictable side effects
• Save us money and time
Healthcare costs will become more affordable because the number of trial and error treatments will be reduced, since this will be more precise medicine.
Personalized medicine is also called precision medicine because you the patient will be looked at as a whole, and while the disease will be treated, it will be done in a manner that doesn’t treat just the ailment. It will look at your genetic history and genetic and genomic makeup.
We all know that education is power. Personalized medicine will give you the knowledge to take an active role in your healthcare.
October 05, 2016
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA