Beyond Fingerprints: An Argument for the Personalized Health Revolution

Key Topics: Epigenetics
November 11, 2019 • 3 min read

There is a great need for individualized approaches to health, wellness, nutrition, and medical treatments.

According to a study published by The Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in La Jolla, California, the amount of diversity between human beings is so extreme that those interested in the maintenance, enhancement, or preservation of these beings need to be far more interested in personalization and individualization than they currently are.

The study, titled “Individualized Medicine from Prewomb to Tomb,” posits:

“That each of us is truly biologically unique, extending to even monozygotic, ‘identical’ twins, is not fully appreciated. Now that it is possible to perform a comprehensive ‘omic’ assessment of an individual, including one’s DNA and RNA sequence and at least some characterization of one’s proteome, metabolome, microbiome, autoantibodies, and epigenome, it has become abundantly clear that each of us has truly one-of-a-kind biological content.

Well beyond the allure of the match-less fingerprint or snowflake concept, these singular, individual data and information set up a remarkable and unprecedented opportunity to improve medical treatment and develop preventive strategies to preserve health.”

New genomic research, microbiome tests, and therapies are continuing to reveal how drastic the differences between two people can be. Humans are comprised of over 30 trillion microscopic cells and 100 trillion strains of bacteria with virtually limitless combinations of backgrounds, genetics, and DNA distributions. The next wave in modern medicine will carefully include as many elements of personal treatments and tailor-made therapies as it possibly can.

What is Personalized Healthcare?

The STSI quantifies the disparity between how unique humans are and how today’s medical communities represent that uniqueness by stating that:

“With whole-genome DNA sequencing and a variety of omic technologies to define aspects of each individual’s biology at many different levels, we have indeed embarked on a new era of medicine. The term ‘‘personalized medicine’’ has been used for many years but has engendered considerable confusion.

A recent survey indicated that only 4% of the public understand what the term is intended to mean (Stanton, 2013), and the hack-neyed, commercial use of ‘‘personalized’’ makes many people think that this refers to a concierge service of medical care. Whereas ‘‘person’’ refers to a human being, ‘‘personalized’’ can mean anything from having monogrammed stationary or luggage to ascribing personal qualities.

 Therefore, it was not surprising that a committee representing the National Academy of Sciences proposed using the term ‘‘precision medicine’’ as defined by ‘‘tailoring of medical treatment to the individual characteristics of each patient’’

Essentially, most of the public confuses obtaining personalized care with obtaining care from a personable individual. It is not enough for a patient to simply receive the same tests and treatments from a professional that he or she knows by their first name. That professional must use the growing arsenal of tools at their disposal to map, understand, and exploit the unique genetic, biological and physiological reality of the patient toward therapies that lead to true health for that particular individual.

The STSI study likens this process to that of Google Maps — a simple system with a wildly complicated backend infrastructure. It is beyond simple to find directions or interesting locations with Google Maps at the push of a button, but sourcing all of that data takes an incredible amount of time and upkeep. Achieving a human Geographical Information System (GIS) would be similar to the process by which Google built its navigation system. It would require significant effort up front, substantial yet reduced upkeep over time and would pay significant dividends over time once the data is sourced.

The wildest part of this theory is not its ambition; however, it is how overwhelmingly achievable it actually is. The Human Genome was mapped in 2003. Nearly 17 years later, genetic tools and technology have grown exponentially.

“Although Google has digitized and thus created a GIS for the Earth, it is now possible to digitize a human being,” the study states “…there are multiple layers of data that can now be obtained for any individual. This includes data from biosensors, scanners, electronic medical records, social media, and the various omics that include DNA sequence, transcriptome, proteome, metabolome, epigenome, microbiome, and exposome.”

How Can Healthcare Become Personalized?

The study goes on to describe the many ways that basic medical science can evolve and codify itself to embrace personalized medicine over homogenized, commercialized, pill-for-an-ill treatment. With the technology already in existence, DNA sequencing and other careful biological understanding can be achieved while a fetus is still in the womb. By the time that child is born, a physician could realistically complete a wellness guide for that child that spans the rest of its natural life. The potential of these and other forward-thinking approaches to treatment would revolutionize the way humankind approaches medicine.

The study concludes by stating that:

This pre womb-to-tomb review has emphasized that there is a disproportionate relationship between knowledge and imple-mentation into clinical practice. For individualized medicine to take hold, it will require intensive, rigorous validation that these new approaches improve patient outcomes and are demon-strated to be cost effective. This proof will be essential for the medical community to embrace the opportunities but will also require educational programs that squarely address the knowledge chasm that currently exists for practicing physicians.”

WholisticMatters would like to acknowledge Ryan Lazarus, MSc, CNS, IFMCP, DC, for his contributions to the content of this article.

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