Precision Medicine: The Future of Life Sciences and Healthcare

More often than not diseases are influenced by various factors that an individual is subjected to, some of which are general factors while others are specific individual factors. If any industry is on a whole new level of a paradigm shift, then it’s healthcare. For a long, healthcare has been adapted to a conventional approach but not anymore. The tactic in development is rapidly moving towards precision medicine, offering an in-depth understanding of human physiology with genetic insights and advances in technology. This newfound boon is pivotal in alleviating unnecessary suffering related to medical care due to unintended side effects resulting from the current one-size-fits-all approach. It will also reduce the cost of treatment by eliminating ineffective treatment plans at the outset based on data insights. We have probably heard the word ‘Precision Medicine’ on the news or even at our doctor’s office. But what exactly is it and how does it affect your life right now?

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The method of tailoring treatment to an individual based on specific personalized factors is called Precision Medicine. Thanks to the rapid advances in the field of genetic mapping, we now understand the influence genes hold on a person’s health and well-being, opening the possibilities for discovering a cure for chronic illnesses like cancer or diabetes. This modern approach to understanding health, enables doctors to curate treatments based on a genetic understanding of the patient’s disease leading to personalized treatment plans. It is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes individual variability in genes into account, environment, and lifestyle for each person. In contrast, the one-size-fits-all approach develops disease treatment and prevention strategies for the average person, with less consideration for individual differences. Precision medicine, however, starts with creating a clear picture of health by collecting, connecting and analyzing many kinds of information. Patients have genetic modifications that cause the disease, like cancer, to grow and spread, and these are very different for every patient across various stages. Currently, cancer treatment may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy, depending on its type, size, and stage. With genetic mutations and characterization, precision medicine can cater to specific personalized treatment plans, with certain drugs proving more effective for detailed genetic profiles examining the underlying causes of disease. Every patient is unique, so one-size-fits-all remedies don’t always work. It’s not just cancer. For diabetes, asthma and most other diseases or conditions, obsolete treatments will soon be worn out, which are based on generic symptoms, standard tests and common drugs.

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Is precision medicine all goody good with no backside to it whatsoever?

Certainly not! Precision medicine has been touted as the most accurate and personalized way to treat someone who is sick. The idea of precision medicine is relatively new but holds great promise; however, there is a flip side to this one as well, like anything. A recent report by the Data & Society Research Institute in New York claims certain groups in the US are in jeopardy of being worse off if precision medicine becomes the norm.

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1.     Uninsured and Health Illiterate:

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People who can afford health insurance and a decent lifestyle will instantly welcome the new change. On the other hand, the uninsured will be at a loss. Precision medicine needs data to be precise, and the uninsured tend not to go to the doctor. Hence, relatively little health information about these people gets collected. Those who are “health-illiterate” are also at risk of being worse off. A handful of extensive, ongoing precision-medicine studies look at people who wear electronic trackers to monitor their vital signs. These people tend to be early adopters of technology. They’re likely to be physically active, interested in improving their health, well educated, and living near major cities.

2.     Immigrants:

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 It is also worrisome that the findings of precision medicine research could be used to discriminate against immigrants and other people who otherwise are already marginalized. 

3.     People in Poor Health:

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People in poor health may suffer from precision medicine rather than benefiting from it as this approach would produce personalized health recommendations, which would be likely to put more responsibility on individuals to take charge of their own health. Those who do it best would be the ‘uncommonly tech-savvy, highly health literate, self-directed, information seeking, health-focused, and well insured, Meanwhile, for people without resources and those already in poor health, the recommendations could feel confusing, overwhelming, and even intrusive, causing them to distrust the information they’re getting.

 What is the interim solution? 

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 Researchers will need to find ways to get people who are less ‘health literate’ to join such studies; otherwise, precision medicine may end up mostly benefiting urban elites. Inclusion of women and minorities would also uphold the integrity of these studies as they get the short end of the stick as often being excluded from research studies. If precision medicine relies on historical data, it could be “inherently biased.”

From chronic illness to dermatology and aesthetic, precision medicine has made its way in most healthcare segments. DNA analysis has always been a vital tool for doctors and police forensic teams; the same techniques are being used by the hyper-growing cosmetics industry for nearly a decade now. Genetic testing is no more limited to heart diseases, cancers, tumours and other dreadful diseases. Now we have one for skincare!

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SkinDNA is one such revolutionary DNA laboratory test where an individual’s DNA is examined across 16 genetic markers (SNPs) in 5 categories associated with skin aging: Firmness & Elasticity, Wrinkling, Sun Damage & Pigmentation, Free Radical Damage and Sensitivity & InflammationThese results aids in creating a scientifically customized, unique skincare regime tailored specifically to that person.

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The term “precision medicine” might sound relatively fresh, but the concept has been a part of healthcare for many years. For instance, a person who needs a blood transfusion is not given blood from a randomly selected donor; instead, the donor’s blood type is matched to the recipient to reduce the risk of complications. When we integrate this approach, our clinicians and researchers can understand our health risks, responses to a disease or drug and ways to prevent it. This highlights an individual’s unique trait, making the healers stop focusing on diseases and care for us as an individual. Although examples can be found in several areas of medicine, the role of precision medicine in day-to-day healthcare is relatively limited. Nevertheless, researchers hope that this approach will deeply root in many areas of health and healthcare in the coming years.

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