A surge of research into personalized medicine marks a tangible shift away from the “one size fits all” approach to treatment. Here we look at what personalized medicine is, some of the key technologies involved, and the potential of personalized medicine in the treatment of serious diseases like cancer.
What is personalized medicine?
Also known as precision medicine, this relatively new medical model doesn’t simply target disease. It also requires considering a patient’s unique genetic data in order to predict his or her response to treatment.
Personalized medicine is not a new concept. Tailormade treatments go back to the time of Hippocrates. Nevertheless, technological advancements and the rise of genomics has led to huge growth in this medical discipline.
Just as our fingerprints are unique, so is our genome, the genetic blue print for the human body containing all of our DNA. Scientists have long recognized the link between our genes and our susceptibility to certain diseases.
Our genes play a part not just in our physiological constitutions, but also the way our bodies function. The presence or absence of certain genetic permutations can significantly affect the way our bodies respond, not just to the disease, but also to the treatment.
What is The Human Genome Project?
Hailed by President Bill Clinton as the most wondrous map ever produced by man, the Human Genome Project was an international collaboration between the world’s leading geneticists. It culminated in the successful sequencing of the human genome in 2000.
Scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan all contributed to the project. Funded by the United States Government, the Human Genome Project cost somewhere on the order of $2.7 billion.
Over the past 20 years, research into genomics has snowballed. Technological advancements have led to a steep decline in the cost of genome sequencing. Today, several research laboratories offer whole human genome sequencing for as little as $100.
Additionally, the sequencing process is no longer painstakingly completed by hand; it is completely computerized. This means that scientists can sequence genomes in a far shorter timeframe. Rather than taking decades, they can now sequence a human genome in as little as one day.
What are the potential applications of genomic medicine?
Genomics is being utilized in mainstream medicine with increasing frequency. Today, genomic medicine plays a key role in the treatment of rare and infectious diseases as well as in pharmacology and oncology.
The Human Genome Project provided scientists with groundbreaking advancements in the understanding of biology and disease. Genomic medicine allows specialists to apply these principles to the individual in order to improve health.
How is personalized medicine being implemented today?
Though personalized medicine is still very much in the exploratory stages, this relatively new medical field is already showing great promise. Personalized medicine has been implemented in the treatment of people with HIV/AIDS to assess their likelihood of developing an adverse reaction to the medication Abacavir.
Though the medication is very effective in treating symptoms of HIV/AIDS, approximately 10 percent of patients developed serious hypersensitivity reactions to Abacavir. Patch tests proved ineffective in predicting a patient’s likelihood of developing an adverse reaction.
Geneticists discovered a link between hypersensitivity to the medication and the HLA-B*57:01 allele. This discovery led to the FDA recommending that all HIV/AIDS patients undergo genetic screening prior to being prescribed Abacavir.
What is the potential for the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a notoriously complex, hard to treat, irreversible neurocognitive disorder. Generic prescriptions and mainstream treatment have a limited impact on the condition.
Scientists have established a link between inherited biomarkers and incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Geneticists have identified several genetic markers that can indicate a predisposition to developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Beyond the patient’s age, experts now believe that one of these genetic markers, known as APOε4, is the greatest indicator of a person developing Alzheimer’s. Researchers hope to use personalized medicine in order to improve drug development programs, which currently have a failure rate of 99.8 percent.
How will personalized medicine be used in cancer treatment?
Oncologists are increasingly developing targeted treatments for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, colorectal cancer, kidney cancer, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, leukemia, and childhood cancers.
Targeted treatment involves specialists targeting specific genes and proteins that cause cancer cells to grow. Numerous research programs are currently underway, creating and testing new drugs on these targets.
Pharmacogenomics is a relatively new field of science that looks at the way a person’s genes affects their body’s function and reaction to drugs. By tailoring cancer treatments to the person rather than prescribing a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the disease, scientists hope to improve treatment efficacy and recovery rates.
Personalized cancer medicine is very much in its formative stages, with many personalized treatments non-standardized and only offered through clinical trials. Nevertheless, falling genome sequencing costs combined with an increase in genomic research offers the hope of improving cancer survival rates, and perhaps one day even developing a cure.