Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Personalized Medicine: Our Future or Big Data Voodoo?

Kumar Ethirajan, MD
NOTE: Kumar Ethirajan, MD, an oncologist specializing in cancer genetics in the Kansas City area since 1993 and member of the Center for Practical Bioethics’ board of directors, will present this topic as part of the Center’s BIOETHICS MATTERS lecture series on Wednesday, July 19, 7:00 pm, at the Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch, 4801 Main Street, Kansas City, MO. Bring your perspectives, questions and personal stories. Admission is free. All are welcome. 

Personalized medicine has the potential to revolutionize medicine. Actually, that’s not true. Personalized medicine IS REVOLUTIONIZING medicine. 

Personalized medicine IS our future! Yet, based on a 2013 survey by GfK, a global consumer research firm, just 27% of people have heard of the term personalized medicine and, of those, only 4% understand what the term means.

You may have heard personalized medicine referred to as genomic medicine, precision medicine or individualized medicine. Whatever you call it, it’s medicine that uses information about your genes to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. In cancer, it’s about using information about a tumor to discover certain biomarkers or genes and, hopefully, having a drug to treat it. So far, researchers have discovered more than 1800 disease genes, created more than 2,000 genetic tests for human conditions, and have 350 drugs currently in clinical trials.

So, this is great, right? Yes. But consider that some 30% of the world’s stored data is generated by the healthcare industry – and that a single patient on average generates 80 megabytes per year! With healthcare data exploding like this, shouldn’t we be thinking about the questions it raises? For example:
Who owns your genetic information and who should have access to it? Does the abnormal biomarker discovered by a testing company data belong to you or the entity that discovered it? 
Is your information secure? Can it be used against you? Is de-personalization the answer? Is one layer of de-personalization sufficient?
And what if you have your genome sequenced and it reveals some abnormality related to a currently incurable or even untreatable disease? Do you want to know?

Perhaps the first step in benefiting from this revolution is to educate ourselves. Good ethics and good medicine start with good facts. Learn more about what personalized medicine is. What’s the promise? What’s the hype? 


A good place to begin is this article in Genome Magazine. A good opportunity to learn more is at a program presented by Kumar Ethirajan, MD, a member of the Center for Practical Bioethics’ board of directors, on July 19, 7:00-8:30 pm at the Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch. Admission is free. Reservations requested.

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