Advances in understanding the human genome are set to usher in a new era in medical care - personalized medicine, which will see more effective and cheaper treatment regimes. A recent report by the Institute of Medicine put the cost of unnecessary medical care in the United States at $750 billion a year! This cost imperative has added urgency to the move to personalized medicine.
The treatment method has already started making a difference: recent news reports outlined how genome medicine helped cure a rare treatment-resistant, virus-induced tumor caused by a mutation in the patient's genes.
Traditional clinical diagnosis and treatment are based on clinical signs and symptoms, lab data and imaging technologies. Although it has proved largely effective for about a century and more, the drawbacks with this method are many: it is reactive, starting after signs and symptoms appear; it is more trial and error on the part of the physician before the right treatment is zeroed in upon; and the risks of side effects from the treatment are many.
The human genome project, an international scientific effort to identify and map the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional standpoint, now enables physicians and medical scientists to better understand the role of genetics in disease. The advantages of this method of medical intervention include a better, more effective treatment regime, with reduced side effects and lower costs of medical care and insurance. Importantly, the knowledge of an individual's genetic makeup will enable physicians to make individualized risk predictions and start preventive treatments long before a disease makes its appearance.
Personalized medicine opens up many new opportunities for Big Pharma, struggling to increase revenues and profits as many blockbuster drugs approach patent expiry. The advent of personalized medicine also means there is a need to obtain the unique DNA sequence of each individual, and capture and store that information in electronic medical records. Already, about half of all Americans benefit from such electronic data records. The mining and evaluation of this genome data for discovering disease associations requires data analytics and research and offers many opportunities for new businesses to develop around this need.
Genome medicine will - along with tools such as smartphones -- enable people to have access to digitized records of their genome sequences and lab records and change the way doctors will interact with patients. It will allow concepts and methods from western and oriental medical systems to be combined. It will let treatment regimens for diseases like cancer to be tailored to the individual.
Will genome medicine be the secret key to the long-awaited fountain of youth? Perhaps not, but it is all set to radically alter the current landscape in medical care.