Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are explorers on a new frontier, one already fostering trailblazing advances in health care. The field of personalized medicine uses innovations in the study of genetics to allow doctors to use an individual's genetic code to predict or prevent disease, reach a more accurate diagnosis or direct more precise treatment.
Dr. David Schwartz, chair of medicine at the CU School of Medicine, described progress in personalized medicine to a rapt audience of CU supporters at a lecture last week.
When you're the patient, all medicine is personal, but the field emerged from the world's largest collaborative biological project. In 2003, scientists around the world completed the Human Genome Project, which established the sequence of human DNA and its function. It took 13 years, cost some $2.7 billion, and opened a world of medical possibilities. Technological advances allow an individual's genome to be sequenced today in a few days for less than $5,000. More important, scientists are connecting the dots between the Human Genome Project and patients.
It's important to note we are still on the threshold of discovery and innovation in personalized medicine. There is much to be done.
Yet CU Anschutz is one of about a dozen university medical centers around the country at the forefront of the field. The benefits of personalized medicine are many, starting with better prediction and prevention of disease. Additionally, a patient's genetic profile can enable an earlier, more exact diagnosis. It allows for better medical decisions based on more accurate information. And it uses targeted therapies to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes, minimizing ineffective treatments and negative side effects.
Dr. Schwartz likens personalized medicine to Google Earth maps in that the search for effective treatment starts at a metaphorical 30,000 feet. Subsequent steps gather and analyze data about a patient's symptoms, biology and environment. The view continually narrows until physicians sift through an array of therapies and determine which will best treat the patient's disease. It also allows doctors and researchers to develop new therapies to address genetic mutations.
The genetic testing at the heart of personalized medicine gives physicians and researchers powerful tools to study the role of genetic factors in some of the most prevalent diseases, from cancer to cardiovascular disease, from diabetes to pulmonary fibrosis. Because information used is as unique as each individual, collecting genetic, clinical and environmental data is a critical - and massive - component of personalized medicine, leading us to expand our data-management capacity. And recognizing the field's importance, the CU School of Medicine is creating a division of personalized medicine.
A sampling of the work of faculty in our School of Medicine employing personalized medicine is impressive. Dr. Frank Accurso pioneered a treatment that targets a genetic defect that causes cystic fibrosis, helping some current patients with the promise of helping many more. Dr. Bryan Haugen developed genetic testing that has spared many patients suspected of having thyroid cancer the trauma of surgery. Dr. Ross Camidge of the CU Cancer Center discovered a drug treatment that makes life better and longer for a subset of lung cancer patients. Dr. Karl Lewis helped demonstrate benefits of a drug treatment for metastatic melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) where none existed previously.
Dr. Schwartz says the possibilities in personalized medicine are vast and will help broad groups as well as individuals. It can identify patient populations vulnerable to specific diseases, discover genetic causes of existing diseases and help identify the combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause disease.
We aim to be leaders in the field, so CU researchers will continue their explorations on this new frontier. Their scientific advances will help tens of thousands of patients in Colorado and beyond.
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