Diagnostics and prognoses are done based on set standards in Medicine. These standards include symptoms. Any two persons sharing similar symptoms can carry the same kinds of diseases or afflicted with the same disorders.
But a question always looms when diagnostics (or prognoses) fail – the two persons share similar symptoms and have been given the same medicines and dosage; what could have gone wrong?
Quite logically, the physician runs another trial based on their expertise, or simply recommends another doctor.
But the revolutionary research going on in the field of the human genome and the recent startling finding that a person’s biological future (future diseases, life span, etc.) can be mapped using the human DNA. This is being referred as “personalized medicine” or genomic medicine or precision medicine by geneticists.
With this approach, medicines will be tailor-made and prescribed based on factors including the patient’s genetic history, health and allergy histories, possible diseases and conditions they can develop in the future, and the past and present environment and lifestyle. With this, each patient will be treated as a unique specimen.
The genome is the complete set of genes and genetic material present in a cell or an organism.
Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome – more than 3 billion DNA base pairs – is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.
Haven’t Medicines Been Always Personalized?
The answer to this question depends on the working definition of personalization. Unlike most physicians, the National Human Genome Research Institute, USA, defines personalization as using the individual’s genetic profile to guide decisions made in regard to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, as opposed to only observing external factors.
This knowledge about the basic elements of the human genomes and their difference, both common and rare, is central to the concept of personalized medicine.
With advances in medical technology, researchers at the NHGRI have fully sequenced the genetic profiles of more than 1,000 patients.
How Does It Work
If you get sick, you can get your genome sequenced before proceeding ahead. Knowing your genome or the molecular basis of your disease will be used as evidence for doctors seeking the most favorable treatment plan for you.
Take, for example, cancer. In this case, genetic tests could lead to successful drug treatment rather than radical surgery.
Let’s say, melanoma (cancer) can be BRAF positive, meaning the tumor has a specific gene mutation that sets it apart from other melanomas. Your lung cancer can be EGFR or ALK-positive.
A medicine would be prescribed (or designed if not already available) based on this information.
Even though genomic medicine is overwhelming, it is still in its infancy. Researchers and scientists have a lot of information about genes and genomes but they know little what to do with some of it or how to go forward. The trick is to find out what exactly the information means and how it can be used a 100% to target all diseases.
Several questions about ethics, too, have been raised in terms of ownership, privacy, access, and more because genetic data can be misused.
But this hasn’t slowed down the quest for a solution. Researchers have discovered more than 1,800 disease genes since the completion of the Human Genome Project. There are now more than 2,000 genetic tests for human conditions and 350 biotechnology-based products currently in clinical trials.
Lung cancer treatment is one of the most advanced areas in terms of a personalized medicine approach, with several drugs approved by the FDA or in clinical trials for different lung cancer biomarkers.
But genomic medicine allays the apprehensions that medical science and general science can’t overlap. Just like physics, chemistry or biology, medicine would now become more evidence-based.
As an evidence for its working, melanoma, thyroid, colorectal, lung and pancreatic cancer and breast cancer are already being treated or prevented using genomic medicine.
Personalized medicine complements, “prevention is better than cure” by allowing you to find out the diseases you need to be worried about several decades down the line.