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Personalized Medicine – One size doesn't fit all

Personalized Medicine

People differ from one another in many ways, including how our bodies work. How our bodies differ is still being studied; but some key differences are already known. With this knowledge, medical practices and products can be tailored to match your body's needs. Medicine can also be tailored based on features of the disease and lifestyle factors. This approach is called personalized medicine. Other names for personalized medicine are precision medicine, individualized medicine, and genomic medicine. Personalized medicine can help with:

  • Knowing who's at risk for cancer,
  • Preventing cancer and other diseases,
  • Finding cancer early,
  • Diagnosing disease correctly,
  • Choosing which treatments work best,
  • Choosing treatments with the fewest side effects, and
  • Monitoring treatment results.

Personalized medicine has advanced due to research on the human genome. The human genome is the plan—like a blueprint—by which our bodies are made and work. A complete copy of your genome is found within most cells. Thus, you have trillions of copies of your genome in your body.

The genome is made up of chromosomes. Chromosomes are long strands of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that are tightly wrapped around proteins. Humans have 46 chromosomes. DNA is a molecule that is shaped like a twisted ladder. Each step of the ladder is made of either one of two pairs of chemicals: A and T or C and G. The steps repeat over and over but in a different order. DNA has about 3.2 billion steps.

A gene is a small piece of DNA that contains instructions to make a product. Genes make up about 33% of our genome. However, only about 2% of our DNA consists of genes that contain codes for making proteins. These proteins carry out most of the activities of the cell. Without them, cells would not be able to do their job or make new cells.

Genomes are passed down from parents to a child. Half of your genome comes from your mother and half from your father. Genomes among people are very alike. Almost all of our DNA (more than 99%) is the same. Common differences in DNA are called polymorphisms. Differences in DNA that are not normal are called mutations. Most mutations cause no harm. Other mutations can lead to cancer or other diseases.

Mutations may be inherited—passed down from parents to child. Mutations can also occur during one's lifetime. These mutations may be caused by chemicals in the environment or from behaviors, such as smoking. They occur when new cells are being made. To make new cells, a copy of your DNA is made. When a cell makes a copy of DNA, errors can occur. Examples of errors include missing DNA parts, DNA parts switching with one another, or the placement of a wrong chemical.

Personalized medicine uses information about your genome, genes, disease, and life to plan the best care for you. To obtain this information, your doctor will ask about your health now and in the past. This is called a medical history. Your doctor will also ask about the health of your family since some diseases are passed down from parents to children. Information about your body and the disease can also be found using tests. For more information on testing, click on Biomarker Testing.