Personalized Medicine - Background

Background

Traditional clinical diagnosis and management focuses on the individual patient's clinical signs and symptoms, medical and family history, and data from laboratory and imaging evaluation to diagnose and treat illnesses. This is often a reactive approach to treatment, i.e., treatment/medication starts after the signs and symptoms appear.

Advances in medical genetics and human genetics have enabled a more detailed understanding of the impact of genetics in disease. Large collaborative research projects (for example, the Human genome project) have laid the groundwork for the understanding of the roles of genes in normal human development and physiology, revealed single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that account for some of the genetic variability between individuals, and made possible the use of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to examine genetic variation and risk for many common diseases.

Historically, the pharmaceutical industry has developed medications based on empiric observations and more recently, known disease mechanisms. For example, antibiotics were based on the observation that microbes produce substances that inhibit other species. Agents that lower blood pressure have typically been designed to act on certain pathways involved in hypertension (such as renal salt and water absorption, vascular contractility, and cardiac output). Medications for high cholesterol target the absorption, metabolism, and generation of cholesterol. Treatments for diabetes are aimed at improving insulin release from the pancreas and sensitivity of the muscle and fat tissues to insulin action. Thus, medications are developed based on mechanisms of disease that have been extensively studied over the past century. It is hoped that recent advancements in the genetic etiologies of common diseases will improve pharmaceutical development.

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