Traditional medicine uses symptoms to diagnose diseases, and drugs to treat these symptoms. But precision medicine aims to turn this concept on its head.
By identifying the factors that predispose a person to a particular disease and the molecular mechanisms that cause the condition, treatment and prevention strategies can be tailored to each individual.
So, how do we get from traditional to precision medicine? Advances in genetics and molecular analysis techniques have been a deciding factor, as has getting patients involved with managing their own health.
However, is precision medicine going to revolutionize how we treat all medical conditions, or will it be the privilege of a select few?
To the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “[P]recision medicine is a revolutionary approach for disease prevention and treatment that takes into account individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and biology.”
Launched by President Barack Obama in 2015, the Precision Medicine Initiative “will pioneer a new model of patient-powered research that promises to accelerate biomedical discoveries and provide clinicians with new tools, knowledge, and therapies to select which treatments will work best for which patients.”
Breakthroughs in molecular biology have been key to getting precision medicine off the ground.
Next-generation DNA sequencing is now routinely used to identify genetic mutations that drive specific cancers, and biomarkers that predict disease risk or how well a person will respond to a particular treatment are increasingly becoming reality in medical practice.
Cancer is the one area wherein precision medicine seems to be making significant headway. New therapies seek to target the specific cellular pathway that is being exploited by a cancer, with the view to making short the life of the tumor.