Have you heard of precision medicine?

Precision medicine is changing the way diseases are prevented, diagnosed and treated.

Have you heard of precision medicine? Working for Michigan State University Extension has taught me a lot, but this is one term I hadn’t heard, until recently. Precision medicine may change the way we are all treated by healthcare professionals, so it’s time we learn what it’s all about!

Precision medicine is an emerging approach for the prevention and treatment of diseases. Through precision medicine, each person’s unique situation is taken into account. The idea is that the treatment or prevention strategy is precisely suited to that individual’s unique genes, lifestyle and environment and administered at the right time, leading to more successful outcomes. This approach moves beyond a “one size fits all” method of treatment or prevention in which strategies are designed for the “average” person. 

The National Institutes of Health uses the example of blood transfusions to explain that precision medicine has been around for a long time. When you need a blood transfusion, you aren’t given just any type of blood. You’re given blood from a donor that matches your type. Today, precision medicine is expanding to address many diseases, both rare and common, such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and obesity. It also encompasses mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Precision medicine uses more sophisticated diagnostics and therapies which allow for better precision in classifying diseases.

The University of California San Francisco explains that precision medicine starts with basic biomedical research, which explores how things work, and spans these additional domains:

  • Clinical Discovery: This research goes beyond clinical trials and incorporates trial and research results, electronic health records and other types of personal health data to the clinical setting.
  • Behavioral/Social Discovery: Taking each person’s lifestyle, background, environment, habits and other criteria into account to develop a complete picture of that individual’s health, and focusing on precision medicine best practices to inform treatment and policy.
  • Digital Health: This includes the devices and instruments that capture physiological information. The digital health approach uses these technologies to monitor and provide vital health-related information about people.
  • ‘Omics Technologies: In this case, certain information is studied, for example, genomics, on a large scale.
  • Computational Health Sciences: It is crucial that researchers and healthcare professionals have a solid grasp of computer science technology in order for them to contribute to and utilize precision medicine.

Two key components of precision medicine are that it works across disciplines and it examines individuals on the molecular, genomic, cellular, clinical, behavioral, physiological and environmental levels. By knowing the nature of diseases with molecular-level accuracy, the root causes of disease can be treated. The International Academy of Precision Medicine claims that as, “the answer to the healthcare crisis” it will radically change the practice of medicine.

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