It’s Personal

Nov 03

We are entering a new frontier in medicine. It’s a world shaped by personalized medicine or what we fondly describe as “precision health care”. Genetic profiling or unraveling our genetic code will lead to improved diagnoses and targeted therapies so that the beneficial effects of therapeutics outnumber the side effects. Pharmacogenomics, proteomics, epigenomics, metagenomics, metabolomics and even astro-omics have and will increasingly transform how we practice medicine on Earth and in space.

I recently participated in two conferences that focused on this revolutionary approach to our health. One conference was held at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center. Scientists and clinicians espoused the benefits of using new molecular markers to improve the accuracy of biopsy reports.Yet, what could have been a very impersonal and technical discussion quickly became a forum to discuss the important role that pathologists can play to enhance patient centric care-where the needs and concerns of the patient are met by an integrated medical team working at the patient’s bedside.

This past week, I also participated on a panel sponsored by Women in Bio, a professional society for female biotechnology entrepreneurs. The room was filled with scientists, clinicians, educators, businesswomen and a few good men. We began our session focusing on genomics — a cornerstone for personalized medicine — and ended with a presentation by a woman who founded an organization focused on survivors of metastatic breast cancer. I had the opportunity to sit between the two of them. In some ways, I felt like the Rosetta Stone. I could translate the complex lexicon of the scientist to the policy and advocacy concerns of a patient who very well knows the statistics but also the hope and desire for a longer quality of life.

While I do believe that the advancements in genomic medicine will be extraordinary, I am concerned that that we may lose the essential elements of what makes “great” health care providers. Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine and famous sayings, declared that “the good physician heals the disease, while the great physician treats the patient who has the disease”. During this current Ebola crisis, we need to remember this. We are seeing the impact of personalized medicine in the treatment of a disease that has an average mortality rate of 70%. Patients are being given plasma transfusions from survivors who have the same blood types and exotic monoclonal antibody cocktails are being manufactured (despite no human clinical trials to prove their safety and efficacy). These are desperate measures to treat a horrific disease which generates fear and isolation. Perhaps, the ultimate example of personalized medicine was the compassionate and courageous act of a nurse who held the hand of a patient dying from Ebola in Dallas so he would not feel alone. This nurse provided exactly what this patient needed.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2014 at 8:12 pm and is filed under Policy, Public Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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