What Is Precision Medicine and What Does It Mean for Health Care

Posted by Genome Medical

Precision medicine is a common term used in health care. But what does it mean? Learn more about what precision medicine is, what it is not and how this approach to medical care can be valuable to individuals, families and health systems when paired with clinical experts in genomic medicine.

What Is Precision Medicine?

If you follow advances in medicine and health care, the term “precision medicine” likely comes up. But what does this term mean? Precision medicine helps clinicians use information about a person’s unique genetics, environment and lifestyle to offer that person more accurate and effective disease treatment and prevention (adapted from U.S. Precision Medicine Initiative). 

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Using that same information, precision medicine also aims to avoid medical care that may be ineffective or harmful to that person. The method to precision medicine is specific to an individual, as compared to the “one-size-fits-all” often used elsewhere in medicine.

The term “precision medicine” and the U.S. Precision Medicine Initiative may be relatively new, but the idea of providing accurate medical care to an individual patient is not. 

What is new is that, today, the amount and type of information clinicians have to offer precise care to an individual patient is far more than before. Medical scientists and researchers can advance genetics and genomics to understand disease, create more effective treatments and develop better prevention strategies. Experts in genomic medicine, like those at Genome Medical, can use these advances to appropriately deliver precision medicine to patients and families. 

What is the Difference Between Precision Medicine and Personalized Medicine?

The terms “precision medicine” and “personalized medicine” can mean the same thing and are often used interchangeably. However, “precision medicine” is the preferred term. A 2011 report from The National Research Council explained that “personalized medicine” left the impression that disease treatments and prevention strategies are created personally and individually for a patient, but that is not what happens in medical care. Instead, knowing about factors from a person’s genetics, environment and lifestyle help to develop a precise approach to medical care for that person. All of that is better captured in the term “precision medicine.”

What Are Benefits of Precision Medicine?

Precision medicine offers benefits to individuals, families and health systems. An example of personalized medicine is using genetic testing (such as genomic sequencing) to help determine an individual’s disease risk for a health condition, such as heart disease. 

  • How does the individual benefit from precision medicine? 
      • If genetic testing shows that someone has a high genetic risk for heart disease, their clinician can make medical recommendations to address those risks, with the goal of preventing heart disease. Precision medicine offers recommendations based on different factors: the person’s personal and family health history, genetic test results, lifestyle and environment. 
  • How does the family benefit from precision medicine? 
      • Some heart disease runs in families. Genetic testing can identify at-risk family members. Precision medicine could offer similar recommendations to these family members to address their risks for heart disease. 
  • How does the health system benefit from precision medicine? 
    • Populations of individuals, such as those within a health system, can improve their health by uncovering and addressing genetic risk factors for disease with a precision medicine method. Overall, this can reduce costs and resources, especially when knowledge gained feeds back into the system. (Ginsburg GG & Phillips K, Health Affairs, 2018).  

What Are Limitations of Precision Medicine?

Precision medicine uses information about genetics and genomics to provide a precise path to medical care for an individual. But even though the human genome is sequenced, an understanding of how all our genes work is still in progress. This is to be expected in a field like medical genetics, which is rapidly evolving. This also means there are natural limitations to how precision medicine can be used. Precision medicine is suitable and available for many, but not all, methods to disease treatment and prevention. Specialists in genomic medicine, such as those at Genome Medical, know these limitations and can appropriately deliver precision medicine to patients, families and health systems.

Precision Medicine and Genomics

Using advanced genetic testing technologies like DNA sequencing is easier and less expensive, making it more accessible than before. The amount of genomic data from individuals that is available to researchers and scientists is rapidly growing. By studying genomic data from different populations, these researchers and scientists in genetics and genomics can better understand how genetic variations contribute to disease. This understanding can lead to disease treatments and prevention strategies that are needed in a precision medicine approach. As time goes on, genetics and genomic medicine will play a growing role in healthcare.

Pharmacogenomics

Pharmacogenomics, sometimes called pharmacogenetics or drug response, falls under genomic medicine and precision medicine. Pharmacogenomics uses a person’s genetics to help select and/or dose a medication to treat a disease. Pharmacogenomics also aims to avoid medications that may cause harmful side effects for that person. An example of pharmacogenomics is using a person’s genetics to dose a blood thinner medication needed to treat a blood clot. Pharmacogenetic testing is available to learn a person’s sensitivity to specific blood thinners, which could help a clinician pick the right medication and dose for that person. This helps allow for more effective treatment, while also reducing the risk of harm with an incorrect treatment.

Precision Medicine in Cancer

New information about the human genome is always being applied to cancer research and treatment. An understanding of how genes contribute to cancer can help with developing effective treatments. “Precision oncology” is a subset of oncology that uses information about cancer and genetics for precision medicine. As an example, genetic testing (often called comprehensive genomic profiling) is done on tumors from patients to determine a “genetic profile” of genetic variants found within the tumor. Certain genetic variants (and the absence of others) in a tumor track with certain diagnoses, targeted treatments, or stages of cancer in a patient. This can help clinicians better know how to care for and medically manage their patients with cancer.

Precision Medicine Genomics in Health Care

The Future of Genomics in Health Care

As more is understood about genetics and genomics, this knowledge will play an increasing role in precision medicine and health care. Research about genomic variants in populations with and without disease is already being applied in clinical trials, drug development and disease prevention pathways. Precision medicine and experts in genomic medicine represent the future of patient care, as we move from intervention-based healthcare to preventive and proactive healthcare

Precision Medicine Genomics Solutions for Health Systems

Genome Medical’s expert clinicians and genomic medicine services offer multiple benefits to individuals, health systems and hospitals nationwide. They can offer comprehensive genetics evaluations, which may include a discussion of genetic testing to identify disease risks. Using a precision medicine approach, medical recommendations and a clinical action plan are provided to help address and reduce genetic health risks. The medical professionals at Genome Medical are well positioned to effectively deliver precision medicine to the individuals that need it.

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