[Reblog] A problem with precision medicine: It’s not quite precise – at least not yet
From the 20 February 2015 post by Joseph Burns at Covering Health (Association of Health Care Journalist)
At a conference last year, Michael Laposata, M.D., Ph.D., one of the nation’s best known pathologists, explained how clinical laboratories could deliver more value to patients, physicians, and health insurers. To do so, pathologists and laboratory scientists need to provide more detailed explanations about lab test results because even physicians who order genetic and molecular tests are often confused about the results, said Laposata, chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
When he explains test results to ordering physicians, he frequently refers to an “allele” which is one of two or more versions of a gene, he said. When he does, physicians sometimes ask, “What’s an allele?”
His anecdote is telling following President Obama’s announcement last month that he recommended spending $215 million on the precision medicine initiative. The announcement was correctly hailed as an important and needed investment in medical technology. “Precision medicine” is described by the National Institutes of Health as “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.”
Given that there is and will continue to be a lot of hype about precision and personalized medicine, we may want to check our expectations, because the hurdles are daunting, as Tabitha M. Powledge wrote for the Genetic Literacy Project. “The plan embodies a wonderfully human let’s-climb-Everest-because-it’s-there aspiration. But you also have to wonder about the practicality of such a sweeping program,” she explained.
There is not much good, proven, scientific, medical uses for what we’re talking about as personalized or precision medicine,” Greely said. “And yet, we … sell and we hype as if there is much more.”
“Here’s the problem: because personalized medicine is in the realm of OMG-that’s-too-complicated science, the usual watchdogs don’t see it. Plus the big academic medical centers love the grants that it generates.”
Even health insurers are struggling to understand the full implications of genetic and molecular testing…
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