About Personalized Medicine

About Personalized Medicine

The Power of Personalized Medicine

What Can Personalized Medicine Do for Me?

"Personalized medicine" is changing the landscape of healthcare. Newly available tests provide more information about us than ever before, and healthcare providers can use that information to better diagnose conditions and to deliver medicines and treatments that are more customized than ever.

In the past, doctors treated us by looking at our symptoms, and taking into account our family history, our behavior and our environment to develop a treatment plan. Treatments were often based on what "worked" for a broad group of people with the same symptoms.

Thanks to today's genetic technology, we know a lot more about how DNA impacts the body and our health. We know more about the genes that cause diseases, as well as how they cause them.  We also know more about how the body interacts on a molecular level with things like bacteria, viruses, medicines, and more.

There are over 2000 genetic tests available today. They are used in all area of medicine -- from diagnosis to treatment, risk prediction, and more. New tests are being developed at a rapid pace and more become available each year.

We know more about genetic markers that put us at risk for diseases, too, and how we can make diet and lifestyle changes that may lower that risk. Our genetic differences can cause us to react differently to diseases, drugs and treatments. Personalized medicine uses this information to help find the right treatment, at the right time, for your particular situation.

You May Have Already Benefitted from Personalized Medicine

Personalized medicine is used in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of many different disease areas including cancer and heart disease. Pharmacogenetics uses genetic testing to understand how a medicine will act in your body.

Here are some examples of personalized medicine in action:

  • If your doctor is considering prescribing Plavix® to prevent heart attack, blood clots or stroke, you can take a pharmacogenetic test to see if you are one of the 45% of all people who will not get the full benefit of the drug. If so, there are alternative drugs that you can take.
  • If you have early-stage breast cancer, you can use a tumor profiling test like OncotypeDX to examine the DNA mutations in your tumor to predict how it will respond to chemotherapy. Many people with early-stage breast cancer don't have a high enough risk for the cancer to spread or return to make chemotherapy worthwhile. With these test results, you can more accurately predict whether the risks of chemotherapy outweigh the benefits.
  • If you are considering the bloodthinner, warfarin (Coumadin®), you can take a pharmacogenetic test to look at two drug metabolism genes that affect how you process warfarin and other drugs. This genetic information can help your doctor find the best starting dose for you. This can reduce your risk for bleeding or clotting episodes, and shorten the time (and blood tests) needed to reach your best dose.
  • If you have an HIV infection, you can take a CCR5-tropism test to identify the strain of HIV in your blood. If you have a CCR5-tropic strain of HIV, the newer CCR5-blocking antiretrovirals could be effective against your infection. If not, other treatments are recommended instead.
  • Abacavir (Ziagen®) is a drug commonly used to treat people with HIV infections. However, it can cause a toxic reaction, in about 5% to 8% of people who take it. A pharmacogenetic test can be used to identify people with a gene variant that puts them at high-risk for side effects. If you test positive, your doctor can use a different treatment instead.
  • If you are diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, the first treatment is usually a drug called imatinib (Gleevec®), which is very effective for most people. However, about 5% to 10% of people don’t respond to imatinib or become resistant to it over time. BCR-ABL testing can be used to monitor your response to this therapy. If imatinib stops working, you can switch to another drug.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is increasingly evaluating genomics-based research and making statements and recommendations about the uses of new genomic tests.  Many pharmaceutical companies are partnering with laboratories to develop what they call “companion diagnostics.” This refers to using a genetics-based test to determine which people are best suited for using a targeted medication or treatment, and which people won’t benefit from it.  As personalized medicine moves into mainstream medical practice, it will become common to take a genetic test before getting a prescription. By harnessing the power of DNA, doctors can target therapy with the right drug and the right dose, maximizing benefits while preventing side effects.

Next: What Is Whole Genome Sequencing?