There are many diseases where no proven means of prevention or treatment exists. Precision Medicine (PM) is a new approach for treatment of diseases that considers an individual’s variability in genes. While significant advances in PM have been made for certain types of cancer, the practice is not currently in use for most diseases
When sunlight, or white light, passes through a prism, it cannot be seen on the other side. Instead, what is observed are all the colours of a rainbow, ranging from red to orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. This is known as the white light spectrum because sunlight comprises all these colours.
Isaac Newton wrote about this phenomenon 300 years ago in a work titled Opticks. If we imagine medical science as a ray of white light passing through a glass prism then as a subject it can be symbolised by the different colours observed on the other side, each representing a specific branch of medical science. Given the subject’s many branches, however, a lot more imaginary shades would need to pass through the prism and, indeed, one more “colour” has appeared through medical science’s metaphorical white light spectrum—Precision Medicine (PM).
Imagine undergoing a simple blood test and the doctor meeting you fully prepared with a diagnosis wherein the ideal medicines would have already been identified based on your genetic make-up. This form of treatment will avoid any side effects you may be vulnerable to and genetic data from every patient can improve insights into variations. It would also expedite creating precise therapies faster and at less expense, in which regard an estimated seven billion people across the world would benefit.
In the USA, scientists envision the possibility of cross-referencing an individual’s medical history and biology with patterns found worldwide and utilising the knowledge to deliver effective treatment. The role and study of genes is virtually integral to PM given that genes are catalysts of all cellular processes and determine physical traits.
Again, there are many diseases with no proven means of prevention or treatment and this is where PM provides a new approach. While significant advances in this practice have been made for certain types of cancer, most other diseases don’t figure, which is why efforts are in progress to make PM the norm rather than the exception. Plans are underway to move this concept into everyday practice, to formulate a module that will be suited to a particular patient. The tools for this practice are essentially the individual’s genetic content or cellular analysis that will also help diagnostic imaging.
However, this does not imply creating drugs specific to any one person but, rather, the ability to classify individuals that differ in their being susceptible to a particular disease and how they could respond to a particular treatment. Rather than interpreting PM as “individual treatment”, it would more relevantly involve a category of individuals with genetic similarities. At the molecular level, the cause of an individual’s disease could, through analysis, be identified—thus facilitating treatment.
The PM roadmap involves building a comprehensive database of scientists who will embark on the study of one million Americans to expand the understanding of health and disease. One of the priorities will be to focus on an integrated policy of better prevention and treatment of more types of cancers. The branch of PM that addresses cancer is “precision oncology”.
This new branch of medical science could crystallise a dream into reality: to make it possible to prevent or treat or cure one of humankind’s most frightening diseases—cancer.
By Deepak Rikhye