Personalized medicine is a term you may have come across recently as it has amassed a lot of hype, with good reason we think! Although it is an emerging concept, it comes with many promises for the world of health. It’s related to terms you may associate with science fiction; DNA sequencing, proteomics, biomarkers, and imaging protocols, but in reality, science fiction is edging ever closer to scientific reality with the monumental advances taking place these days. One such great scientific achievement we are all familiar with is the COVID vaccine, which took a mere one year instead of the expected ten!
A simplified approach to personalized medicine is that it is the outcome of studying the individual on a genetic level in relation to various diseases. So, it is basically a new approach to traditional medicine, which looks at the person rather than the disease, by taking a closer look at the individual’s genetic profile to determine the best approach to treatment. This has vast possibilities for individuals suffering or likely to suffer from various diseases, through early detection, or even determining the likelihood of potential diseases.
Personalized medicine is popular to instill dosing strategies in multiple disease conditions including cancer, but it is expanding rapidly to include lifestyle disease management, allowing doctors to select a treatment for their patients based on their genetic profile, instead of the traditional ‘trial and error’ approach. This is clearly highly beneficial for patients as they avoid unnecessary treatments that can be harmful and very cost-effective for healthcare systems worldwide.
A Short History of the Science of Genetics
This field of medicine emerged from the link scientists made between our genetic code, and disease, namely an English physician called Archibald Garrod who is credited for his work in the late 1800s on what later became known as “inborn errors of metabolism,” which are genetic ‘defects’ or ‘errors’ which result in chronic diseases or conditions. Although the acknowledged father of genetics is Gregor Mendel, an Austrian biologist, mathematician, and meteorologist, basically a genius. He discovered the fundamental laws of inheritance, deducing that genes come in pairs, and are inherited in distinct units, one from each parent. This paved the way for Garrod and other physicians and scientists who came later to make such monumental discoveries in the field of genetics. In fact, during his lifetime, his work which included over 10,000 pea plants, was not appreciated in the scientific community, and it was only after 1900 when his same discoveries were rediscovered, that his work was understood and finally applauded.
Personalized Medicine and the Elements Behind It
The following diagram is a great illustration of all the elements required to achieve truly personalized medicine. With the individual patient at the heart of personalized medicine, access to good healthcare is essential for the patient to take the first steps in obtaining all the other elements: the necessary genetic tests, looking at tissue biomarkers which are molecules that indicate the presence of disease, the patient’s environment, behavior, and personality which can be the potential environmental trigger for certain genetic signatures to manifest as a disease/adverse condition, imaging, and radiology, understanding epigenetic modifications, which are changes in the DNA sequence that can determine if certain genes are turned on or off, as well as wireless monitoring.
Although personalized medicine is undergoing a huge ‘hype’ at the moment, it is by no means new, but it is continuously undergoing many changes, with new discoveries as well as necessary regulations by governing bodies, as it is not 100% error-proof, yet, and to certain extent lacks inclusion in terms of study across multiple ethnic groups. Some research has shown that there are possibilities for errors in results where the same samples were tested in different commercial laboratories and provided varying results. This has led to calls for new regulations to be put in place to protect the integrity of the results and naturally the health of patients.
Personalized medicine might not have reached its optimum levels yet, but the scientific community has strong beliefs in this approach. In fact, innovative Predictive, Preventive, and Personalized Medicine (PPPM), is a focal point for research efforts in healthcare. It is the answer for curbing the prevalence of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, as well as cancer and dental pathologies. The ability to predict diseases before they actually happen, and detect diseases before they begin to destroy a person’s quality of life, will have a huge impact on health worldwide. This also promises to reduce the spending for healthcare systems worldwide, which have been groaning under vast spending on tests and treatments, without the availability of sufficient funding.
The Promising Future Direction of Personalized Medicine
If we can try to take one positive aspect of the COVID pandemic which brought our world as we know it to a standstill, it is the urgent need for our healthcare systems to catch. We have made great strides in medicine and in other areas; we have identified some ancestors we had 2 million years ago, the Australopithecus sediba, and we have been able to detect gravitational waves from black holes and stars, and we have even been able to artificially modify DNA with the aim to treat diseases by changing its function.
So, it is about time that much more is done to help healthcare systems worldwide reach a level of efficiency that can cope with the ever-growing number of diseases and subsequent unnecessary deaths. This can only be achieved through pursuing great scientific discoveries and innovations like personalized medicine. If we can discover what a man who lived 4,000 years ago looked like, and even his blood type, then it is perhaps time to discover if someone will get sick and to treat them before they do, so personalized medicine is definitely an exciting new approach that we should watch closely and eagerly!