Updated on 10 March 2014
Given these truly astounding shifts in knowledge, economics and demographics, I know of no more pressing need than to build our capacity to put this research to work in the service of driving new medical treatments and preventive therapies - procedures and drugs that are customized to each patient's individual needs. This revolution is happening now. It comes with great opportunities, (and not a few risks).
Consider the complex hereditary condition Schizophrenia. This terrible mental disorder can cause hallucinations, paranoia, emotional dysfunction and other devastating effects. There are a number of pharmaceuticals that can be used to treat people with Schizophrenia, but patient's individual genetic makeup can determine which drugs would be a better fit for them.
Currently, the gold standard for determining the right drug for a person is costly, time-consuming and potentially dangerous trial and error. But right now, more than 1,000 patients in Ontario are enrolled in a clinical trial that could streamline this process, and make it easier to find the right fit between remedy and patient.
Researchers are using information about seven genes that are associated with Schizophrenia to eliminate the guesswork surrounding treatment. Such genes are associated with mechanisms of drug metabolism and the extent to which the drugs may contribute to obesity or mania. It's one of many such amazing advances in personalized medicine that will not only save money, but also reduce pain and suffering for patients and their loved ones.
Another area where personalized medicine is showing great promise is in the area of rare diseases, especially among newborns and infants. Some afflictions are so rare that medical professionals can unwittingly embark on what is referred to as a "diagnostic odyssey," testing for dozens of better-known maladies before arriving at the correct cause of illness; putting huge stress on the infant, its family and the health care system.