While the term “Precision Medicine” is of fairly recent origin, the desire to provide accurate and unerring care for patients is a fundamental principle in the practice of medicine. It is the basis, for example, in the deliberate care taken to make sure patients in need of blood transfusions are matched with the correct blood type. In this new series, Dr Khor Ing Wei explains how precision medicine is using additional pieces of information such as genetic data to open an exciting new window of possibilities.
Firstly, what is precision medicine?
As opposed to a “one size fits all” approach, precision medicine uses relevant biological, medical, behavioural and environmental information about a person to tailor their healthcare.
What does it mean for your health?
Various types of information helps doctors to better predict patients’ disease risk, allows doctors to make more accurate diagnoses and select therapies that are more likely to work for a particular patient or group of patients. Researchers can also mine the data to develop new, more effective therapies.
How is it different from today’s medicine?
Doctors already use information about us when deciding how to treat us. Currently, this information mostly consists of characteristics such as gender, body weight and ethnic group, as well as simple measurements such as blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
One of the big advantages of precision medicine is that it also considers genetic factors, which explain up to 30% of health, such as how long one lives and which diseases may affect a person. Now, technology has advanced to the point where genetic sequencing of people is much more affordable, allowing us to study and understand the genetic contribution to disease better than ever before.
A quick refresher about genes and genetic variants
Genes contain the basic information needed to code for the proteins, cells and tissues that make up all living things. They play a role in determining our physical characteristics. More importantly, genes determine how individual organs and cells work in our body.
Our genes are coded as sequences of 4 letters, C, G, A and T. Differences in one or more of these letters are called genetic variants. Genetic variants are part of what make us unique. They determine how vulnerable we are to certain diseases and how we respond to foods, medications, exercise and toxins. Genetic variants can be passed down from parents to children.