TEDMED Tuesday: Shaping Personalized Medicine

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When I first began to research the topic of Personalized Medicine, I got excited.  I thought: finally there would be a way in which my doctors could easily view all my medical records, share my information, and then work together symbiotically to help me.

Perhaps the time will come when that excitement will be changed into a reality with all the possibilities that Electronic Medical Records provide; but not today.

Instead, according to an article in US News, “Personalized medicine is about making the treatment as individualized as the disease. It involves identifying genetic, genomic, and clinical information that allows accurate predictions to be made about a person’s susceptibility of developing disease, the course of disease, and its response to treatment.”  Essentially,  this relatively new and rapidly growing field uses your genetic code, among other evidence, to determine a course of treatment or help with a diagnosis.

The TEDMED Great Challenge regarding personalized medicine is just beginning. The primary question is: “How can the wealth of medical information be factored into patient medical records and into everyday care – more quickly, more usefully, and more completely?”

It is important to note that personalized medicine is not to be confused with “genetic medicine.” Genetics, a field more than 50 years old, is the study of heredity. Whereas “genomic and personalized medicine aims to tackle more complex diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, for years believed to be influenced primarily by environmental factors and their interaction with the human genome. It is now understood that because these diseases have strong multi-gene components—and in some cases might be caused by errors in the DNA between genes instead of within genes—they can be better understood using a whole-genome approach,” says US News.

In order for personalized medicine to be used effectively by healthcare providers and their patients, these findings must be translated into precise diagnostic tests and targeted therapies. This has begun to happen in certain areas, such as testing patients genetically to determine their likelihood of having a serious adverse reaction to various cancer drugs. Personalized medicine isn’t limited to patients who are ill. It’s also beneficial to healthy people, helping to determine the likelihood of developing genetic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and more.

Many online articles and references to personalized medicine cite the significant impact of the 2003 sequencing of the human genome project, which provided crucial insight into the biological workings behind countless medical conditions, and enabled scientists and physicians to advance the field of personalized medicine at a fast pace.

While personalized medicine is not yet an established part of clinical practice, US News says, “a number of top-tier medical institutions now have personalized medicine programs, and many are actively conducting both basic research and clinical studies in genomic medicine.”

Personalized medicine may offer patients and clinicians many advantages, including:

  • Ability to make more informed medical decisions
  • Higher probability of desired outcomes thanks to better-targeted therapies
  • Reduced probability of negative side effects
  • Focus on prevention and prediction of disease rather than reaction to it
  • Earlier disease intervention than has been possible in the past
  • Reduced healthcare costs

The Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC) is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about Personalized Medicine.  As a resource, it not only adds to the definition, but it helps archive all the latest legislative action and discussion surrounding this topic.

Another great way to become actively involved in personalized medicine is to utilize the online resource Cure Together. Here you can help yourself by joining an online database of people who are living with similar conditions such as migraines, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. You can enter your own information and see what treatments have worked for others and what treatments have not.  It not only provides information, but also offers an online community of support.

As the practice of personalized medicine progresses, it’s exciting to imagine the difference it can make in the way medicine is practiced.  No longer will physicians need to treat us according to our symptoms, but they’ll be able to have clear insight into how best to treat us based on how our bodies will respond to a current situation and how to proactively help us prevent our own future health issues. No longer will we be solely reliant on a reactive, symptom-driven method of treatment.

Like the many advances in healthcare we’ve witnessed at Steelcase Health, including those improving healthcare environments, treatments, and cures, I’m sure it will take time to transition to personalized medicine. Personally, it’s somewhat difficult to envision this new treatment method. But, I like the idea and the promise it holds.

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