The National Academy of Sciences has released a report recommending the development of a new tool linking diseases with molecular and genetic data to help clinicians and researchers. The concept has been termed “precision medicine” and it calls for a revamping of the 100-year-old diagnostic practice of simply matching up symptoms with diseases. As explained in ScienceInsider:
Precision medicine is already emerging in cancer diagnosis and treatment, the report says: some patients now receive drugs matched to a specific molecular marker in their tumor, and relatives can be tested for certain cancer risks. By contrast, a middle-aged man diagnosed with type II diabetes typically receives a 50-year-old drug that may or may not help him. And no type II diabetes risk tests are available for family members.
What’s needed, the report says, is for patient’s health records to be combined with layers of genomic and other molecular measurements, such as blood proteins and the microbes in a patient’s gut. Like the GPS data used to make Google maps, these data could be plumbed in detail by researchers and used more superficially by others, such as doctors to treat patients, the report says. Separate databases would be combined to form a single network.
The data bank would also be a boon to researchers seeking to identify shared molecular threads that link different conditions. However, the effort is likely to take decades and may require new, more permissive attitudes about patient privacy, notes Nature News today. Stanford’s Stephen Galli, MD, who chairs the department of pathology, was a member of the committee that wrote the report. Galli also co-directs the Stanford’s Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine.