The Future of Healthcare Could Tailor Treatments to Patients’ DNA

The Future of Healthcare Could Tailor Treatments to Patients’ DNA

Your genes determine a lot about you—everything from physical traits like whether you have your dad’s nose, how tall you are or if you will need glasses to medical issues like your risk for getting certain diseases. But new technological advancements in a field called “precision medicine” means your DNA might also be used to create tailored treatments for you.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama put into motion what is being called the “Precision Medicine Initiative.” The goal of the $215 million federal investment is to develop medical treatments that are specific to genetic characteristics.

Precision medicine (also known as personalized medicine and individualized medicine) goes beyond the current “one-size-fits-all” treatment plans and looks to help doctors prescribe medication and treatments that target specific genetic mutations. At the moment, doctors aren’t always sure why a certain treatment works perfectly for one person and doesn’t do anything for another. The answer, many believe, lies in the genes.

It may sound futuristic, but this is already being done. For example, certain cancer patients (mostly lung cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, melanoma and leukemia patients) routinely undergo genetic and molecular testing as part of patient care. The results of those tests help physicians select which treatment option improves the chances of survival and minimizes possible adverse effects. Organizations like the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health have also already begun implementing biomedical research and regulating diagnostic tests.

Dr. Sachin Kheterpal, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation, was named to the Precision Medicine Initiative’s steering group. He said personalizing medical care is what patients deserve. He believes it will lead to better outcomes than the standardized protocols currently employed in patient care, designed for the “average” patient.

“No patient is the average patient,” he said.

Kheterpal was named to the initiative in part because of his background as the project director for the Anesthesiology Performance Improvement and Reporting Exchange, an expansion of the General Surgery collaborative, designed to gather data about procedures and outcomes from medical facilities across Michigan. Both were formed as part of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s collaborative quality improvement initiatives, part of the Value Partnerships program. Through that role, Kheterpal has vast experience using data to drive analytics.

He said uniting and engaging with a wide variety of participants – patients, healthcare providers, and people from industries such as information technology – make the Precision Medicine Initiative unique. Research isn’t being done to publish a paper, but rather to advance knowledge and improve the healthcare system, he said.

“I think this is really a watershed moment about how we define what research is,” he said.

Kheterpal said one of the key differentiators of the initiative is that it appreciates that the complex interaction between a person’s environment, exposures, lifestyle, diet, socioeconomic status, medical care, and genes results in what we call “health”. By integrating all of these sources of data, he believes we will learn the real role of each aspect of health.

“The Precision Medicine Initiative is far more than a ‘genomics database.’  It is a comprehensive community of participants and researchers that will create the technologies, tools, regulations, and infrastructure to transform the conduct of all types of clinical research in the U.S.,” he said.

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