What is precision medicine and how can it affect your health?

March 24, 2015 in Personalized Healthcare  •  By Miles Varn
precision medicine

With the president’s recent announcement of $215 million in funding for a new precision medicine initiative, you may have questions about what precision medicine is and wonder what effect this approach to healthcare may mean for you and your family. Here are the basics you should know.

Traditionally, medical treatment has been primarily reactive. A person develops symptoms, goes to the doctor, undergoes tests, and receives a diagnosis. The medications and treatments the patient receives are the same ones used for any other person who is diagnosed with the same health problem. Unfortunately, not all treatments work equally well for all patients. Consider the effectiveness of these common medications:

  • Antidepressants are only effective for 62 percent of the people they are prescribed for.
  • Medications used to treat certain types of cancer, such as chemotherapy drugs and biologic agents, are only effective for 25 percent of patients.
  • 40 percent of patients who have asthma don’t respond to the most commonly prescribed medications.
  • 43 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes don’t achieve blood sugar control with the most commonly prescribed medications.
  • 70 percent of people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease don’t respond to the medications they are prescribed.
  • 50 percent of people with arthritis don’t achieve symptom relief or slow the progression of joint damage with the medications they are prescribed.

But with an ever-expanding understanding of the role genes play in the development and progression of disease, researchers have been able to develop treatments that target specific genes and molecules that are linked to disease, for example PerjetaR for the treatment of certain breast cancers. Researchers are also exploring targeted treatments for a range of other diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis.

Beyond genetics

The primary focus of precision medicine, which is also known as personalized medicine and genomic medicine, is to use each individual’s genetic profile to help determine what types of prevention, diagnostic tools and treatments will be most effect for that individual. But a comprehensive approach to personalized medicine goes beyond genetic factors to include family history and environmental and lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, stress, chemical exposure, smoking, body weight and alcohol consumption.

Knowing the details of both your genetic makeup and these other key factors, a physician can help you develop a personalized strategy to lower your risk of disease and help you choose more effective treatment options if you are diagnosed with a health problem. The first step in developing your personalized health strategy is to find an experienced physician whose practice focuses on an individualized approach to health. A health advisor can be a good resource and help you get connected with top primary care physicians and specialists, as well as expert consultants in diet and nutrition, fitness and exercise, genetics and health optimization, sleep and stress management so that you can build a plan that will help you achieve your health goals and manage your health risks.