Our health collectively depends on a lot of factors. They include our genes, our diet, how well we take care of ourselves as well as the environment surrounding us. Some people are born with a compromised immune system, which makes them more prone to diseases. Others don’t mind their eating habits and end up with cardiovascular diseases. People who are constantly exposed to dangerous or unhealthy surroundings are at an increased risk of infections. Yet, when we do develop an illness, the treatment that we receive focuses on the symptoms of the illness rather than these patient factors. Why is that?
The “one-size-fits-all” approach of disease treatment has long been the norm. This kind of approach focuses on the disease parameters in an average individual, and fails to give more importance to the differences between individuals. While the results of such an approach have been mostly favourable, researchers now agree that treatments need to be personalized or “precise” depending on the individual. This is where we introduce the term “precision medicine” an approach that focuses on treatment and prevention strategies best suited for particular groups of people.
The term may be new, but the concept has been around for a while. For example, matching a donor’s blood group to the recipient before a blood transfusion. The principle of precision medicine is to go down to the molecular level to analyze the cause and progression of an individual’s disease. This is particularly true for diseases such as cancer, where every patient reacts differently to the same kind of treatment.
The CDC mentions two layers of precision medicine: 1) Prediction and Prevention & 2) Treatment and Management. The first layer focuses on screening of family health history, health devices data, social media as well as newborns for any potential diseases or outbreaks so that they can be prevented to the best of our ability. The second layer focuses on monitoring a patient’s response to their treatment with the help of various devices and techniques to make sure the treatment will be a success.
Before a patient receives precision medicine, they have to undergo genomic tests that study their molecular profiles. There are more testing methods coming up for studying a patient. Moreover, the database available to researchers also plays a role in the development of precision medicine. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) in the medical field is truly a spectacle, especially in the case of precision medicine. AlI techniques are extremely helpful in understanding patient characteristics and then improve quality of patient care.
The advantages of precision medicine are not limited to just personalizing treatments. Other benefits include:
- Understanding the disease as a whole, with a focus on prevention and controlling its progression.
- Using patient health records in an effort to provide better treatment
- Predicting therapies or treatments that the patient is more likely to react to positively.
- Reducing healthcare costs and improving patient care.
- Better integration of a patient’s genetic information in regular medical care.
- Producing better diagnostic tools based on a patient’s genetic information, which will help study risk factors and history of diseases in certain groups of people.
The biggest issue with precision medicine is the maintenance of patient confidentiality. Along with that, the initial investment cost may also become an issue, considering we have to develop new techniques. Also, including precision medicine in routine healthcare will require healthcare workers to understand genetics and biochemistry in order to interpret the genetic results. All of these are existing challenges that can be dealt with successfully given that we take the right steps in a timely manner.
If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world, it is the importance of being ready. Analysis of history and current patterns is important to predict how the future may turn out. With such knowledge, healthcare professionals in the medical field can work around to provide the best care for the patients. As we move ahead to a more technological and automated future, it is our responsibility to step up and match the pace of our understanding. Precision medicine’s benefits outweigh the risks. It is the future.
1. What is precision medicine?. Available from: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/precisionmedicine/definition. Accessed on 02 September 2020.
2. Precision medicine. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precision_medicine. Accessed on 02 September 2020.
3. What are some potential benefits of precision medicine and the Precision Medicine Initiative?. Available from: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/precisionmedic0ine/potentialbenefits. Accessed on 02 September 2020.
4. What Is Precision Medicine?. Available from: https://www.docwirenews.com/blog/docwire-blog-what-is-precision-medicine/. Accessed on 02 September 2020.
5. Precision health: Improving health for each of us and all of us. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/about/precision_med.htm. Accessed on 02 September 2020.
6. What are some of the challenges facing precision medicine and the Precision Medicine Initiative?. Available from: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/precisionmedicine/challenges. Accessed on 02 September 2020.