Personalized Medicine

Nick Newman, Pharm.D. Candidate

Personalized medicine (also often referred to as precision medicine) is the tailoring of medical treatments on an individual rather than mass basis. The usual practice in medicine for a long time was to initiate treatment that is effective for the average patient with a given condition. Based on patient response to the treatment, it might be altered possibly several times until something is found to work satisfactorily. Although effective, there may be another treatment option that is more optimal for the specific patient not even considered. Even for two individuals with the same condition, one treatment that works for one might not for the other. There are many differences in lifestyle, genetics, social history, diet, and other various factors which can contribute to treatment response. The ultimate goal of personalized medicine is to take all of the characteristics of an individual and use them to apply an individualized treatment plan. In turn, this will streamline the treatment process and improve patient outcomes.

Pharmacogenomics is one part of personalized medicine which is the main focus of this site. It refers to the relationship between medications and an individual’s genetic makeup. Much like genetic variations lead to different hair colors, eye colors, birth defects, and taste preferences, they can also cause alterations in drug response. Although not as outright noticeable as some of the differences just listed, genetics determine the specific protein structure of cellular components in our body. Even small differences in components involved with drug response can cause large changes in medication outcomes.

For example, let’s say an individual has a genetic variation which causes them to be a rapid metabolizer of a certain drug. This means the drug is broken down faster than it usually is. The result of this is the drug remains in its active form for a lesser amount of time, and thus has a reduced effect as compared to a normal individual. The patient with this particular genetic variation might require an increased dosage or even a completely different drug in order to achieve an effective outcome. With no information on the genetics of this individual, there is no way to know about this variation until the patient has already started taking the drug. Implementation of personalized medicine hopes to avoid this situation where a patient is undergoing a suboptimal treatment plan. By screening for genetic variation before placing a patient on this medication, the most effective treatment plan could be put in place from the start. Pharmacogenomics, as part of personalized medicine, can be utilized to help obtain the best possible outcomes from patient medication use.

Sources of Information

Genetics home reference [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US), Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications; 2016 Oct 18 [cited 2016 Oct 22]. Available from: