Precision Medicine Initiative

The Information Age is bringing a number of benefits to humanity that were undreamt of, even unimaginable in decades past. One of thee advances ins "e;precision medicine,"e; which means taking into account each individual patient’s medical and personal history, lifestyle, even genetic heritage to find the treatment that will work best for his or her specific situation. To do this requires gathering and cross-referencing data about each patient, as well as research to determine the myriad ways all these factors interact and intersect.

Precision medicine is in some ways a return to medicine’s roots. Medieval medical practice consisted of analyzing not just the patient’s symptoms, but the whole person, including habits and living environment. Although with the rise of industrialization, modern science, and the professional approach, this was derided as superstitious and inefficient, it turns out the problem was merely poor tools and lack of accurate information. The nostrums of old didn’t really work, but the principle was more or less sound—looking at individual factors is actually more efficient than a one-size-fits-all treatment approach that is only truly effective for a subset of the population.

That’s why in the 2015 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama announced government support for research into this new approach, saying:

I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine—one that delivers the right treatment at the right time. In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable. Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes—and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.

In the future, precision medicine could mean stem cell treatments from a patient’s own cells, used to build replacement organs that won’t be rejected. It may mean drugs that don’t merely fight illness but harness the body’s own defenses, thereby reducing side effects. In the speech, Obama alluded to a cystic fibrosis treatment developed by a company in Boston. The researchers worked out a way to create drugs specific to particular genetic mutations of those that cause the disease, rather than the scattershot approach that would otherwise be needed. This means better and more effective treatment, and a similar approach is being investigated for other conditions

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