Personalized medicine relies on diagnostic tests to determine which medicines will work best for each patient. The goal is more efficient and effective healthcare.
Edward Abrahams, Ph.D.
President, Personalized Medicine Coalition
Edward Abrahams, Ph.D., is the President of the Personalized Medicine Coalition, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
When it comes to medicine, one size does not fit all. Treatments and prevention strategies that help some are ineffective for others.
We’ve known this for a long time. William Osler (1849-1919), a Canadian physician sometimes referred to as the father of modern medicine, once wrote that “variability is the law of life. As no two faces are the same,” he noted, “so no two bodies are alike, and no two individuals react alike and behave alike under the abnormal conditions which we know as disease.”
But until the mapping of the human genome 20 years ago, physicians lacked the tools and technology necessary to understand the reasons for variability among patients. Physicians treated all patients essentially the same, relying on trial and error to find the right solution to a particular patient’s predicament.
A better future
Personalized medicine allows us to do much better. Also called precision or individualized medicine, personalized medicine is an evolving field in which physicians use diagnostic tests — often but not always genetic — to determine which medical treatments will work best for each patient. By combining data from diagnostic tests with an individual’s medical history, circumstances, and values, healthcare providers can develop targeted treatment and prevention plans.
Health systems are still developing and adopting the updated policies and procedures that are necessary to facilitate the widespread implementation of personalized medicine. Change does not come easily. But because biology is complex, it demands that we employ more sophisticated approaches to treating patients.
As we learn more about the root causes of certain diseases and develop new ways of delivering care to patients at home and in physicians’ offices, proponents of personalized medicine envision a new era of medicine in keeping with Osler’s appreciation of the principle of individual variation. It will be one that promises better outcomes for patients at lower systemic costs because medicine in the future will become more targeted and efficient.