How Can Healthcare be more Personal?
Personalized Medicine? Precision Medicine? Which one is it?
The term "personalized medicine" was coined about 20 years ago, when huge breakthroughs were being made in mapping the human genome. As more was learned about the human genome, it became clear that individuals faced different health risks based on their genetics, and it was also found that the ways in which people respond to different medications is determined in part by their genetics. Researchers were convinced that in time it would be standard of practice to use genetic information to predict both the risk of disease and the best treatments for each person. Thus, the term "personalized medicine" was born. In recent years, the term "precision medicine" has become the more favored term by experts, but the two terms are often used interchangeably. Several years ago, the Obama administration made precision medicine a priority because of its potential to improve the health of Americans, and devoted substantial funding toward its progress. Precision medicine is in its infancy, but most experts, as well as a large percentage of healthcare providers in general, believe that once harnessed, it will be an effective tool to assist in the treatment of patients with many different types of health problems.
What is Precision Medicine?
Precision medicine is defined as "an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person."
Honestly, it's no big surprise that our genetic makeup affects our risk of disease. When we see a new healthcare provider, one of the first things he or she might do is ask about family history. Why? Because it's been known for a very long time that people with a family history of heart disease, or diabetes, or certain types of cancer are at a higher risk of having those diseases themselves. Another example -- we know that people of certain ethnic backgrounds are at higher risk of sickle cell disease and Tay-Sachs disease. In addition, it's been clear for many years that for some health problems, like high blood pressure, initial treatment should be tailored in part to an individual's ethnic background. Adverse effects of some medications also may be more prevalent in people with certain ethnic backgrounds.
Then there's lifestyle. Our healthcare providers always weigh us when we first get to the clinic. We're asked about alcohol intake, how much physical activity we get. Whether we work full time or are retired. Why? Because disease risk is based in part on lifestyle.
What about environment? It's well known that exposure to second-hand smoke can increase the risk of lung disease, lack of clean drinking water increases the risk of intestinal disease, and living in close quarters like college dorms increases the risk of infectious diseases.
Those are just a few examples of the ways that genetic differences, lifestyle differences, and environmental differences have been taken into account over the years in evaluating disease risk and treatment. But with the mapping of the human genome, things came into clearer perspective. Now, disease risk and response to treatment doesn't need to be guessed at because of the people we're related to. It can be predicted based on our own genetic makeup, which can be tested and documented! The future is upon us!
Pharmacogenomics (or is it Pharmacogenetics?)
The terms "pharmacogenomics" and "pharmacogenetics" are similar in meaning and are often used interchangeably. They both refer to the study of how genetic makeup affects the way a person responds to medications. Pharmacogenomic information currently is being used in the treatment of cancer, and to aid in choosing medications for a variety of other diseases.
The age of Personalized/Precision medicine is here!
We'll explore some details of pharmacogenomics as well as information about other aspects of personalized medicine in several upcoming articles right here on the BetterMyMeds Blog. I invite you to stay tuned for more information that can help you stay healthier and play a more active role in your healthcare!