What is Precision Medicine and Why Does it Matter?

Julie Shenkman
Posted by in Healthcare


Rather than giving the same therapy to a large number of people, precision medicine takes a more customized approach to the practice of medicine. Doctors use genetic information about a person's disease to treat the disease. Precision medicine has been aimed at the treatment of cancer, but future applications could treat inherited disorders like heart defects, brain disorders or lung defects. Precision medicine can potentially change the course of the health care industry.

A Traditional Approach

Conventional medicine has relied on giving people with a certain diagnosis the same schedule of medication. Vaccines are one such example. However, not everyone responds to medication the same way, and for some, it may be ineffective. Making the medication effective typically involves a trial and error process, which generally involves changing the type of medication or dosage amount until the patient starts responding to the medication. The one-size-fits-all approach has worked for the most part, but precision medicine is emerging as a new approach that evaluates a person's lifestyle, environment and genes. With this approach, there is not one best medicine that works for everyone. Rather, a person's individual needs are assessed, and then a course of treatment is administered. Precision medicines can be mass produced to target specific genetic mutations or engineered for one specific patient.

Struggles With Precision Medicine

Although this unique approach has the possibility of making huge leaps in treating many disorders and diseases, there are several barriers that exist. The Food and Drug Administration has strict regulations regarding the usage of new medicines. With precision medicine, clinical trials may not be possible since the therapy is being targeted to a particular individual. The FDA's Precision Medicine Initiative was created to tackle the challenges that arise when using genomic technologies. However, this medial approach is very new, and new standards are still being developed.

Precision medicine involves a heavy use of data about a person's genes. There are concerns about patient confidentiality and the ownership of the data. How will a patient's privacy be protected while he still gets the consultation and evaluation needed for the customized treatment? Who should have access to that data, and how can it be kept secure? What other advancements in mapping the genome of DNA are needed for its efficacy?

Another challenge with precision medicine is the projected cost. Treatments that are created for individuals are not going to be cheap to make. The research and development process will look different, and less people will receive treatment because resources will be spread too thin to target individual cases.

With precision medicine, the genetic makeup of a person can be used to treat variations of diseases. The potential for success is high, but the health care industry needs to overcome several challenges before this treatment approach can really take off.


Photo courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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