People’s bodies aren’t the same. We’re all physically different, each from the other. This isn’t exactly headline news. But genetic research is quickly revealing the staggering extent of our differences.
Genetic research is still in its relative infancy
Opinions continue to vary about how many genes are contained within your genome. The most recent tallies show that the number of genes per genome exceeds 21,000. And the variable combinations of all those genes are nearly infinite.
Introducing Precision Medicine. What is it?
- Scientists can now determine which of your genes are active. They are able to publish that unique genetic signature in a readable form known as a transcriptome.
- A proteome is a list of all the new proteins produced within your body.
- A metabolome is the roster of all the molecules actively involved within your metabolism.
These advances in genetic information may soon provide treating doctors with the functional equivalent of a high definition, three-dimensional hologram of you as a patient. A virtual diagnostic map that reveals every aspect of your current health.
What’s the Precision Medicine Initiative?
In 2016, President Obama launched a $215 million research grant known as the Precision Medicine Initiative. Precision medicine focuses on advancing our understanding of individual physical variability. It then applies that knowledge to disease diagnosis and treatment.
Who’s Dr. Michael Snyder?
Dr. Snyder is chair of the genetics department at Stanford University. His lab has led the way in the genetic aspects of precision medicine. His research is fueled by mountainous masses of data.
Dr. Snyder is confident that processing all that information will enable physicians to examine your genome for risk factors that might lead to disease, and track tens of thousands of molecules as they function within your body.
For a decade, Dr. Snyder practiced precision medicine on himself
He used himself as a human guinea pig. And all that rigorous self-examination paid off. When Dr. Snyder’s genome was sequenced, he learned he had several mutations linked to diabetes. And then he actually became diabetic. (Treatment soon improved his condition.) Dr. Snyder went on to publish his own transcriptome, proteome, and metabolome.
In standard medicine, research and treatment both start with baselines of what is normal
Such baselines are established by determining an average among thousands upon thousands of people. But what’s normal for a crowd of millions may be completely irrelevant to you, if your own unique normality varies from the average.
And standard medical treatment, when applied to an individual who differs from the normal, might be ineffective or even harmful
Thus the need for establishing each individual’s own particular baseline, each patient’s unique normal. When illness appears in a person whose own individual “normal” has been established by precision medicine, the correct treatment can be precisely determined.
Dr. Snyder recruited 109 volunteers to have their own baselines determined through precision medicine
This project began with sequencing each subject’s genome, followed by rigorous physical examinations. The volunteers returned to Dr. Snyder’s lab at three-month intervals to give blood, urine, stool, and cheek swab samples.
The preliminary examinations disclosed previously unknown health problems:
- 18 people were discovered to have undiagnosed Stage II hypertension.
- Another volunteer had full-blown diabetes, although previous conventional exams had shown no proclivity towards diabetes.
- The initial gene sequencing showed that a subject who had recurrent strokes was taking the wrong medication. He had a genetic mutation that rendered the drug ineffective.
- Over the duration of the study, nine volunteers developed diabetes, in ways that differed from subject to subject.
What will be the future of precision medicine?
Dr. Snyder believes that precision medicine will someday enable your doctor to establish your own personal normality baseline. Careful monitoring of that baseline will reveal variations that signal the onset of disease, long before the condition would have been detected by standard diagnostic procedures.
But the cost of precision medicine is currently far beyond the reach of most people. Dr. Henrik Vogt, a researcher at the University of Oslo and an outspoken critic of precision medicine, opines that precision medicine won’t work for “people most in need – those who are poor, or are barely hanging on, or have other things to worry about than monitoring themselves constantly.”
But the cost of new technology has a reliable tendency to drop over time
Televisions that would have cost over $5,000 a few years ago are now available for under $500. It seems likely that precision medicine will follow the same trend towards affordability. Personally, I would love to have such a deep insight into the genetic predispositions of my patients. Here’s hoping precision medicine soon becomes widely available. Thaïs
About Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi
As one of the nation’s leading OB-GYNs, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in gynecological and obstetric care. Together with her warm professional team, Dr. Aliabadi supports women through all phases of life. She fosters a special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor.
We invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please click here to make an appointment or call us at (844) 863-6700.