Thu, 10/05/2017 – 8:00am

by Rob Currie, Technical Officer, UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute and Isabel Bjork, Director Precision Medicine, Pediatric Cancer Programs, UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute
Precision medicine promises to turn the medical framework on its head. Rather than only testing therapies to determine whether they are safe and effective for ‘most’ before they are available to ‘all,’ precision medicine applies technology to big data to investigate whether therapies will be effective, and, almost as important, will not be effective, for the individual.
The hope is that with tailored, ‘personalized medicine’— another common name for precision medicine — patients will respond to targeted therapies, and patients will avoid (more often) all too common onerous, often damaging treatment regimens. The reason this is so important is that diseases are unique to the individual; diseases progress differently in different people, and treatments that are effective for one person may fail altogether for another.
What if we had a barcode unique to each of us that would determine exactly what therapy might work? Well it turns out there is such a barcode called DNA (and its closely related friend RNA). Precision medicine increasingly is leveraging advances in big data to analyze large amounts of genomic data and apply the understanding gained to individual diseases and treatment. For hundreds of years the engine of medicine has been the clinical trial, which asks the central question of, what is effective for ‘most’ people. Genomic data, and the technology developed to compute, analyze and understand this data, is becoming the engine of medicine going forward.