What exactly is ‘precision medicine’ anyway?

What exactly is 'precision medicine' anyway?

Every person is unique, from their fingerprints to their DNA. Why then would a one-size-fits-all treatment program be appropriate for every person with a particular illness or condition?

That’s the basic idea behind the precision medicine, or personalized medicine, movement.

“Precision medicine is a means of providing health care tailored to a patient’s individual characteristics, right down to the genetic level,” says Dr. Antony Ruggeri, hematology and oncology physician at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.

When devising a targeted treatment, precision medicine considers not only a person’s environment and lifestyle, but also their DNA. Each person’s DNA is made up of unique gene patterns and variations that control their body’s functions.

“In a sense, doctors have been personalizing medicine for years,” Dr. Ruggeri says. “We might not treat a middle-aged patient the same as an elderly patient. But where precision medicine has more recently taken a monumental step forward is in the use of molecular testing to determine a treatment course based on genetic makeup.”

Modern molecular testing allows doctors to sequence, or identify, large portions of a person’s DNA and then recommend a specific treatment based on a person’s specific genetic variations.

Recent advances in precision medicine have led to powerful changes in disease treatment, particularly in the field of cancer care.

“Cancer researchers have found that individual tumors also have unique molecular footprints,” explains Dr. Ruggery. “Even among the same type of cancer, the genetic changes driving tumor growth will vary.”

By taking a tumor tissue sample and comparing the tumor’s genetic makeup to those of other tumors recorded in an electronic database, doctors may find a treatment with a history of success against a tumor that’s genetically similar.

For example, the American Society of Clinical Oncology® Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry (TAPUR®) study now underway at Advocate Aurora Health cancer clinics across Wisconsin is evaluating precision medicine cancer treatments with dozens of anticancer drugs that are already on the market.

The drugs available through the study are all approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of a type of cancer – but haven’t been FDA-approved to treat each study participant’s specific type of cancer. Researchers hope the study will help identify new treatments for many different types of advanced cancer.

Want to know more about research at Advocate Aurora Health? Visit aah.org/research.

ASCO, American Society of Clinical Oncology, and TAPUR are trademarks of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc., used with permission.

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