You’re one of a kind. It’s not just your eyes, smile, and personality. Your health, risk for disease, and the ways you respond to medicines are also unique. Medicines that work well for some people may not help you at all. In fact, they might even cause problems. Wouldn’t it be nice if treatments and preventive care could be designed just for you?
The careful matching of your biology to your medical care is known as personalized medicine. It’s already being used by health care providers nationwide.
Genes are stretches of DNA that serve as a sort of instruction manual telling your body how to make the proteins and perform the other tasks that your body needs. The same genes often differ slightly between people. Bases may be switched, missing, or added here and there. Most of these variations have no effect on your health. But some can create unusual proteins that might boost your risk for certain diseases. Some variants can affect how well a medicine works in your body. Or they might cause a medicine to have different side effects in you than in someone else.
It’s becoming more common for doctors to test for gene variants before prescribing certain drugs. “If doctors know your genes, they can predict drug response and incorporate this information into the medical decisions they make,” says Dr. Rochelle Long, a pharmacogenomics expert at NIH. “By screening to know who shouldn’t get certain drugs, we can prevent life-threatening side effects,” Long says.
Even one of the oldest and most common drugs, aspirin, can have varying effects based on your genes. Millions of people take a daily aspirin to lower their risk for heart attack and stroke. Aspirin helps by preventing blood clots that could clog arteries. But aspirin doesn’t reduce heart disease risk in everyone.
Here are just a few treatments that benefit from personalization:
So what does this mean for you? Is personalized medicine something you should look into? Let’s learn more about DNA and genetics to see if we can answer this question.