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Why Personalized Medicine Matters

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President Obama is pushing the term “Precision Medicine.”

I was already pretty comfortable with the existing name for the movement, “Personalized Medicine,” but for a brief time bought into using the President’s term instead.

Precision Medicine does address some current shortcomings after all. In order for medicine to be truly personalized we must know and be able to do so much more than we know and do now. Precision Medicine better captures what we can do today.

But I just can’t give up on the idea of medicine becoming truly personalized, and that personalized medicine has the potential to extend life by decades rather than by months.

I can see a future when cancer is always diagnosed early thanks to highly sensitive and accurate tests. When a diverse range of therapeutic options is available which can control tumor growth and boost immune response, to the point where cancer is managed as successfully as HIV/AIDS is today.

Data will create that future. Data about each patient’s unique physical and molecular profile and response to treatment (including lifestyle factors such as nutrition, environment, etc.). Data which are easily compared with millions upon millions of other patient profiles, making therapeutic decisions quick and easy.

True personalization of medicine is only possible when a high resolution understanding of disease is combined with a diverse range of therapeutic options. Only then can we tackle the massive problem (and opportunity) that David Haussler describes when he says “at the molecular level, every disease is a rare disease.”

That must be the goal, huge though it is: true personalization.

There is another reason I prefer the term Personalized Medicine, and that is because we are talking fundamentally about helping people. My grandmother died far too young from lung cancer, and at the time the therapeutic options for her were so limited that a mercifully quick death was often the best outcome for which a patient could wish.

One of the most impressive and moving appeals for advancement in personalized medicine I’ve ever read came not from a physician or biotech executive, but from a journalist who has since died of breast cancer. Without using jargon like “N-of-1 trials” or “data silos” or “whole genome sequencing,” Laurie Becklund put her finger intuitively and passionately upon the factors that will make truly personalized medicine a reality. I encourage everyone to read her dying wish, and dare you not to be frustrated b=and at the same time emboldened to solve these big problems.

For all of these reason I’m going to stick with Personalized Medicine thank you.