Have you ever noticed how different people react differently to any drug?
How a person A may be fit as a fiddle upon popping a single pill but person B goes through the whole bottle and still be the same? What about person C, who might just be allergic and for whom the pill would do more bad than good? On average, any given prescription drug on the market nowadays only works for half of those who take it.
The underlying concept behind this different responsiveness to drugs is a combination of each person’s genetic make-up and the influence of environmental factors.
Conventional healthcare is based on the evidence-based practice of diagnosing and treating diseases. The drugs and treatments thus devised are tested on broad populations and prescribed using statistical averages. While these may work perfectly on some, others aren’t that lucky and for some, they may even prove fatal. In fact, there have been more than a million deaths due to ‘adverse drug reactions’ in the last 10 years!
Advancements in technology and drug discovery have led to the inception of a previously-deemed-science-fiction concept- Customized Health Care using personalized medicine. Yes, you read that right, customized treatment plans designed for every individual. Though still far from being commonly practiced, the roots of this new practice have begun to take hold.
Personalized medicine uses predictive tools to evaluate health risks and to design personalized health plans to help patients mitigate risks, prevent disease and to treat it with precision when it occurs. Techniques such as genome sequencing can reveal mutations in DNA that influence diseases ranging from cystic fibrosis to cancer. This emerging science has the potential to truly customize healthcare to the patient, enabling providers to match drugs to patients based on their genetic profiles, to identify which health conditions an individual is susceptible to, and to determine how a given patient will respond to a particular therapy.
Although there have been quite a few encouraging signs of change, not many health systems apart from a few pioneers have yet embraced this practice. This concept seems like a boon for all those who are included in the minority percentage of people dealing with adverse effects of traditional medicine.
To see how it compares to our trusty old mainstream medicine, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each:
- Pharmaceutical Medicines go through strict trials to become licensed. It takes years of research and bundles of paperwork AND laboratory testing sessions to finally launch a new drug, did you know?
- The physicians prescribing these medicines are highly skilled, trained professionals. Might as well trust that they know what they’re doing!
- Both the Medical Profession and the Pharmaceutical Industry have very strict guidelines to abide by. Any doctor not adhering to these guidelines is struck off and unable to practice again. Pharmaceutical Companies are subject to massive fines if found to be in breach.
- Doctors have access to highly accurate diagnostic equipment nowadays and they are trained to recognize and diagnose disease. Medicine is not a stagnant science, you know! We’ve come a long way from the days of Hippocrates.
- One of the most obvious problems- side effects. Some patients get stuck in a cycle of taking more Drugs to deal with the unwanted effects of the drugs they were originally prescribed.
- Mainstream medicine focuses on dealing with the symptoms of the disease. Rather than curing the problem, most of the time it just suppresses it. This can lead to a lifetime need for drug therapy.
- You ever notice how Doctors earn well? Yes, medical treatment is expensive, and without access to health insurance, can be out of the reach of many. Even in countries where there is free access to health care, certain drugs or treatments may not be available, due to the local health care services being unable to pay for them.
- Being different poses a problem. Dosing and regimen are standardized, which is ok for the majority of patients, but not for those who fall outside the norm. The treatment doesn’t work as well for them or they then have tolerability problems.
- It can be used to predict a person’s risk for a particular disease, based on the analysis of their genome. The physician can thus initiate preventative treatment before the disease even presents itself in the patient. For example, if it is found that a DNA mutation increases a person’s risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, the person can begin lifestyle changes that will lessen their chances of developing the disease later in life.
- The detailed account of genetic ‘intel’ from the individual will help prevent adverse reactions or unfortunate events, allow for appropriate dosages, and create maximum efficacy with drug prescriptions.
- Having information about an individual’s genetic makeup can be a major asset in deciding if a patient can be chosen for inclusion or exclusion in the final stages of a clinical trial. Such selective testing will prevent any adverse outcomes in patients. Not only will this allow for smaller and faster trials, it will lead to lower costs- a win-win situation!
- The validity of genomic tests, given the complexity of gene expression, would be surrounded by uncertainty, no matter how advanced the technology used, which is a major concern. No test is 100% accurate!
- There is no guarantee against possible mishandling of private genomic information by providers and discrimination based on genomic information (by, for example, insurance companies, private companies, and the healthcare system).
- Genetic tests can only provide limited information about a condition; they cannot determine if or when a person will show symptoms of a disease, how severe the symptoms will be, or whether the disorder will progress over time.
Both mainstream and personalized medicines have their own positive and negative aspects. Instead of being narrow-minded and choosing one over the other, it would be wiser to explore all the options available to you, the more choices you have the better, right? Since none is without its own flaws, it rests with the patient to decide which course they want to give a try. And why choose one? Just take what each offers and try to integrate them together! It’s not much of a risk, it would definitely be worth it…. but do consult with your physician first, don’t just take our word for it!