For all the life-saving pharmaceuticals, surgeries and devices it provides, modern medicine is still rather imprecise. Chemotherapy drugs, for instance, may save a patient’s life, but at the cost of vicious side effects—or they may not work well at all. The problem stems from the fact that everyone diagnosed with a disease generally has access to the same suite of treatments, and there hasn’t been a way to determine which one is best suited for an individual patient.
But this is beginning to change thanks to the massive amount of human genomic DNA sequence data available today. With this information in hand, scientists can now identify the genetic underpinnings of specific diseases, drug sensitivity and physiological variation. These relationships have given rise to “genomic medicine” or “precision medicine,” the idea that a patient’s genes can guide therapeutic interventions. The National Institutes of Health elaborates, noting that this advance in modern medicine
…. takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.’ This approach will allow doctors and researchers to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people. It is in contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach, in which disease treatment and prevention strategies are developed for the average person, with less consideration for the differences between individuals.
On this episode of Talking Biotech, plant geneticist Kevin Folta and genomic medicine researcher Dr. Karla Claudio chat with Julie Johnson, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Florida. Johnson provides an outline of precision medicine, examining its present strengths and limitations. While the field is relatively new, she notes that research is progressing rapidly, and the results have been so far well received by the public. As our understanding of genetics continues to improve, millions of people stand to benefit from customized medical treatments in the coming years.
Julie A. Johnson, Pharm.D., is dean of the University of Florida College of Pharmacy and distinguished professor of Pharmacy and Medicine. She received her B.S. in Pharmacy from the Ohio State University and her Pharm.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The Talking Biotech podcast, produced by Kevin Folta, is available for listening or subscription: