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Precision Medicine: A Treatment Tailored For You

posted on 7/3/2016 Facebook Facebook

As the boundaries between hospitals, research institutes, and industry continue to slim down, new innovations are making their presence felt in how we treat and manage diseases. The most recognized additions to the healthcare model are genomics and precision medicine.

Since the first draft of the human genome was released in 2001(which cost about $3 billion), advancements in sequencing technology have brought that cost down to the point where the “$1,000 genome” is within sight. The day might be closer when your doctor orders a genetic along with your vitamin D and cholesterol profiles. But while all this is creating a substantial stir in the field of medicine, many amongst us are not aware of what ‘precision medicine’ is. We are here to simplify things for you. 

What Is Precision Medicine? 
Precision medicine is based on a very simple understanding that all of us are different genetically (except if you are identical twins) and hence, we react differently to different medicines, diseases, and environments. 

The precision medicine approach is aimed at promoting your health and treat diseases by taking into account these individual gene differences, environment, and your lifestyle and thereafter design an easy to follow and targeted plan for treatment or prevention. In short, precision medicine will help your doctor to select the best effective treatment option for you. This will not only ensure that you get the right drugs to treat your disease but also avoid unnecessary expenses. 

This approach is being increasingly accepted in cancer treatment. Patients with breast, lung, and colorectal cancers, as well as melanoma, are now routinely undergoing DNA testing as part of their care, enabling their physicians to select treatments based on this information that can improve their chances of survival and reduce their exposure to adverse effects. However, it is not only about genomics. The field of precision medicine is also influencing medical imaging (MRI and X-ray) and health information technology to help develop new and improved treatment options. 

Improving Survival In Cancer With Precision Medicine 
Cancer is a disease mainly guided by genetic mutations—which makes every cancer patient unique. The mutations which guide the development and spread of cancer if determined and treated with appropriate drugs can improve the chances of survival. Several small studies have highlighted the usefulness of personalized tailored cancer treatments to increase the five-year survival rates in cancer patients. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Breast cancer patients with a genetic profile called HER-2 positive show an improved response to the drug trastuzumab (Herceptin). 
  • Lung cancer patients whose tumors are positive for EGFR mutations respond to the drugs gefitinib (Iressa) and erlotinib (Tarceva) which target this mutation.
  • On the other hand, colon cancer patients whose tumors have a mutation in a gene called KRAS derive little benefit from the drugs cetuximab (Erbitux) and panitumumab (Vectibix).

Finding key genomic changes in cancerous tumors can help in developing more effective ways to diagnose, treat and prevent cancer. But, precision medicine is not just limited to treating cancer. As the genetic basis for other diseases is explored, this approach will help in optimizing treatment for a range of diseases. 

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4. Pinto AC, Ades F, de Azambuja E, Piccart-Gebhart M. Trastuzumab for patients with HER2 positive breast cancer: delivery, duration and combination therapies. Breast. 2013 Aug;22 Suppl 2:S152-5. doi: 10.1016/j.breast.2013.07.029. Review.PubMed PMID: 24074778.
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