With the right scientific team, the right technology, and knowledge of a person on a molecular level, not only can we effectively treat disease, we may be able to prevent it altogether.
Precision medicine is fundamentally changing the way we think about diseases. Right now, patients are generally grouped by their symptoms, which organ or body part is affected and the kind of disease they have—whether it’s cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
“Historically, doctors have grouped people by disease—Crohn’s disease, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and so on,” Dr. McGovern said.
When we take what we have learned from studies such as the Human Genome Project, increased understanding of the bacteria that live in our bodies, and the unique proteins that make up every person, we find that two people may be diagnosed with the same disease, but on the molecular level, their disease looks completely different.
For example, two people with Crohn’s disease may bear very little (molecular) resemblance to each other and will not respond the same way to treatments.
“Now, if we zoom back out and look again at the same population, we discover that we have a very different picture,” Dr. McGovern said. “Across diseases, people share molecular signatures. Someone with Crohn’s disease could be, on a molecular level, much more similar to a patient with a certain heart disease or rheumatologic condition.”
“So now, armed with this new information, we can regroup people according to shared molecular profiles, and we may find that what is an effective treatment for one person’s Crohn’s disease can also be used to treat another person’s rheumatoid arthritis.”
The labels we’ve given diseases based on symptoms and body parts may be less important in the future than the specific genetics of the people those diseases affect.
“We’re getting the right treatment to the right patient at the right time,” Dr. McGovern said.
And in time, we’ll get to patients before an illness gets to them.