Continuous advancements in technology as well as the increasing availability of medical data are paving the way for a new era of healthcare, enabling new ways of treating patients that were unthinkable only a couple of decades ago.
Among these, Personalized Medicine stands out. As the name suggests, Personalized Medicine offers a tailored approach to patient care — one that takes into account individual or restricted groups’ needs, genomics, and lifestyle. In theory, by analyzing a patient’s genetic profile and personal routine, medical professionals are able to better diagnose and treat diseases. This personalized approach may lead to improved outcomes and improved quality of life for patients, as it better allows them to receive the right medical care and treatments at the right time.
The idea of Personalized Medicine is far from being new; Hippocrates (c. 460 — c. 370 BC) stated that “it is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has” 1. However, the diffusion of AI and an eased access to medical data may constitute the missing pieces to really kick off this important revolution in medicine.
Benefits of Personalized Medicine
The increasing interest among researchers of genomics is not only opening the doors for drastic changes in the way we do medicine, but it is also highlighting the differences between each patient and therefore also how the same drug can be more effective for some patients but not for others.
Personalized medicine is based on each patient’s unique genetic makeup, and is allowing health care providers to:
- Focus on prevention of diseases: By taking into account an individual’s genetic makeup, health care providers can better predict the likelihood of them developing certain diseases and can better equip patients to prevent them, rather than reacting from the moment of diagnosis. This could be achieved through a combination of lifestyle changes, tailored nutrition plans, and early screenings that are informed by an individual’s genetic profile.
- Healthcare providers can better detect diseases in their early stages and provide treatments in a timely manner.
- Another fundamental point is the consequent prescription of more effective drugs, as personalized medicine could help determine which drugs will be most effective for an individual patient and which instead is more likely to have serious side effects.
- Last but not least, Personalized Medicine can make patients feel more involved in their care. By being more informed about their condition, they can take an active role in their own health and make decisions with their healthcare provider’s guidance. This can lead to increased patient satisfaction and improved outcomes.
Former US President Barack Obama recognized these benefits in 2015, when he launched the Precision Medicine Initiative to accelerate progress toward a new era of medicine tailored to each individual patient. A number of patients whose stories inspired the effort were also present, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the famous six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in 2008 and then credited precision medicine for helping him to be well today. Also present was Hugh Rienhoff, a trained clinical geneticist who used personalized medicine to discover that his daughter was affected by a different syndrome than the one initially diagnosed 2.
It seems like Personalized Medicine addresses several of the limitations in the current way of conducting healthcare, but there are many challenges that are still to be solved before it becomes mainstream.
Why don’t we already have Personalized Medicine
The two main obstacles for a wider adoption of personalized medicine are the high cost, hence accessibility, and the availability of data.
A 2013 paper written by Sairamesh Jakka and Michael Rossbachin for “The HUGO Journal” on personalized medicine argued that “the greatest challenges are economic, not scientific” 3. The technology required to testing and to determine the most effective treatment for each individual patient is in fact often expensive. Furthermore, the cost of treatments required to address the underlying cause of a patient’s condition can quickly add up, as they may be complex and involve a multi-disciplinary team of medical specialists. As a result, personalized medicine is today out of reach for many patients.
In the same year, the famous actress Angelina Jolie revealed in a blog 4 her decision to undergo testing for the BRCA1 gene, which is known to dramatically increase a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, and to have a preventive double mastectomy as a result of her identification as a carrier of the disease. However, the test alone costed around $3,000 at the time, a significant sum for the vast majority of the world’s population.
Another challenge is the availability of data. Personalized medicine requires a very deep understanding of that patient’s condition and circumstances, and this in turn requires the extensive use of massive amounts of data, such as medical history, lifestyle habits, genetics, and environment. However, today most patients are unable to provide this information because there isn’t a globally scalable framework that enables people to gain access to — or share — their medical data.
How Data Lake can support AI and change the game
Data Lake’s medical data donation infrastructure enables people to consent to the accessing of their medical data, and allows them to easily share it with medical researchers in a compliant and fair manner. Through this system, Data Lake is breaking down medical data silos and allowing researchers and medical AI developers to obtain and analyze anonymized information. It is our hope that our system will help in the development of the technologies and methodologies necessary for advanced, personalized medicine to become commonplace.
As we discussed in the article “Could ChatGPT be your doctor in the future?“, AIs are becoming an important tool in the arsenal of researchers. With the right data and the right approach, we believe they may also play a role in the future to collect information about a patient during their visit to a healthcare facility (or through remote sensors), and become a personalized health assistant for a new era of “Predictive, Personalized, Preventive and Participatory” P4 medicine5.
Despite the obstacles we pointed out, the latest developments in genomics and medical technologies are supporting a shift in scientific focus towards the individual level, with more and more people including their genomics sequence in their medical records in an attempt to discover more about themselves, prevent diseases and treat them better. More than a trend, it is hard to imagine how any field of medicine will not be affected by this huge revolution called personalized medicine.
We at Data Lake are aware of the challenges ahead, but also embrace the latest trends in healthcare, conscious that our medical data donation ecosystem has the potential to be of key support.