Personalized Medicine

As a HOSA alumnus working in the healthcare field, I feel it is a responsibility to remain informed on current events of my profession and how these events are shaping the profession.  I feel it is also a responsibility to sharing this information with other HOSA members so that our members are prepared for the future.   One relatively new topic which spans both current events as well as shaping the future of healthcare is personalized medicine. 
 
What would be the clinical implication if we had the ability to identify a subtype within a broader disease state such as cancer?  For example, it is not just cancer, but “Type I” cancer.  What would be the treatment regime if we knew that “Type I” cancer only responds to “Drug Y”?
 
Welcome to personalized medicine!
 
During the January 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, which is also known as personalized medicine.  In the simplest of conceptual terms, personalized medicine is correctly identifying a disease state and providing a select and tailored treatment plan for that disease.    Members in the health care industry have been hard at work for several years now to bring personalized medicine to reality.  Tests are being developed as well as knowledge of affective treatment options.  One method which will serve as a cornerstone in personalized medicine will be genetic testing.  Diseases will be characterized genetically so that the proper treatment can be administered. 
 
It has been over twelve years since the Human Genome Project was completed.  Since that time, researchers have been busy trying to better understand the data from the project, which is the location and function of genes in the human genome.  While there is still much we do not completely understand, we have a better understanding of which genes are faulty and contribute to a particular disease state.  Knowledge, at the genetic level, for some diseases such as cancer, has increased tremendously.  One factor discovered is that not all genes contributing to a disease may be affected at the same time.  There may be slight differences among individuals.   As a result, certain drugs may remain ineffective in the treatment of the disease.   With genetic testing, the current practice of correctly identifying a disease state but prescribing a drug which is not affective in the treatment of the disease, may soon come to an end.
 
With genetic testing, there are other things to consider, such as ethics, which will not be discussed in this article.  What if genetic testing eventually becomes mandatory as a screening procedure?  What if one has been tested for known generic diseases and has been identified as having a genetic mutation?  They are not sick now, but eventually could be.  What will that person do?
 
With personalized medicine, there is a tremendous effort to make diagnostic testing less expensive, less invasive, more accurate, and producing almost instantaneous results.  Once the diagnosis has been made, there is the expectation the “magic bullet” drug, which will cure the disease, will be prescribed. The impact of personalized medicine on the future of healthcare cannot be overlooked or understated.  
 
David Guffey
HOSA Alumni Director at Large 

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