Would you want to know whether you have a higher chance of developing a life-threatening disease?
The face of healthcare and medicine as we know it, is set to change forever.
It took scientists 13 years to sequence the first human genome at a cost of $2.7bn. Today your genome can be sequenced using next generation sequencing techniques for $1,000 in less than 3 days, and costs are expected to still come down further. This means that it will soon be common practice for every baby to have his/her genome sequenced at birth. This will give insight as to what inherited diseases and health risks a child may have, and consequently allow for better health management. This is truly the era of personalised medicine, and doctors will be empowered to tailor treatments specifically to your genetic make-up.
Despite us all having different molecular makeup, medication has always been prescribed as a one-size-fits-all. It’s a well-known fact that prescribed medication is a blunt instrument – it works for less than 50% of the population. For the other 50%, these drugs can be toxic, which can lead to severe side-effects and, in some instances, death. Soon you will be able to know, in advance, whether a drug will be effective for you or not. Additionally, biopsies of cancer tumours can be directly sequenced, and you’ll be able to know upfront which chemotherapy is most effective and safe for you. This will be the end of blindly prescribing medicine and hoping for the best.
Whilst targeted sequencing looks for specific mutations and known disease risks, there’s still an important ethical debate around sequencing your whole genome. Other than there being a substantial amount of data of unknown variants (we don’t know what it means yet), do you really want to know if you have a gene mutation that predisposes you to an early-onset disease with no known cure such as Alzheimers’ or Parkinsons’ Disease when there is not much you can do about it? However, for some, the knowledge of their health risks have empowered them to take positive action, such as avoiding certain foods and exercising more.
See video link: The genetic treasure that will transform humanity | Musa Mhlanga
A new gene editing technique called CRISPR has gotten scientists really fired-up, as it’s made it easy to edit the gene mutations in your DNA code, and effectively fix them. Whilst this could cure people from debilitating diseases, a moratorium on the use of gene editing technologies on human embryos has been called for, because the safety and reliability of this technique is unknown. Also, while we may fix something, we may also inadvertently trigger something else which has far worse consequences. Nevertheless, research will continue to ensure that this new technology is proven to be safe in human cells, and we look forward to the potential this new tool will bring to modern medicine and healthcare.
There are exciting times ahead, in which you, the individual, will be empowered to take charge of your health, i.e. become the CEO of your own health. There are many cutting-edge technologies like wearable tech, medical health records, telemedicine, crowdsourcing and 3D printing contributing to this.
See video link: The future of medicine is here | Daniel Kraft