The Personalized Future of Medical Care

October 23, 2014

Society depends so greatly on medical procedures like blood transfusions and vaccines that it can be difficult to remember that these practices have only been around for about a century. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1940s that hospitals became sophisticated enough to offer a patient better care than they could receive in their home. Since then, human life expectancy has leapt to nearly 80 years while advanced procedures like organ transplants are now common.

With so much ground broken over the course of 100 years, there’s no telling what the field of medicine will look like even in the near future. According to the National Institutes of Health, though, it’s quite possible that medical care will become increasingly personalized as the years go by. To back up this claim, the Institutes’ director Dr. Francis Collins points to the growing ubiquity of human genome mapping. “The individualized approach to medicine is rapidly approaching reality now that the cost of sequencing a person’s DNA instruction book, or genome, has fallen to $1,000,” said Dr. Collins. That number is even more astonishing considering that it cost $400 million to map the first human DNA strand just over a decade ago.

Dr. Collins posits that soon babies will have their DNA mapped at birth, laying out a blueprint for their life’s medical care. With so many ailments attributed to genetic defects, people of the future will be far better prepared to deal with possible illnesses if they can see those defects from the beginning. These key pieces of information will allow doctors to prescribe far more personalized treatments for patients. Most importantly, human genome mapping could be essential to fighting cancerous tumors. By mapping the DNA sequence of a patient’s tumor, a regimen of specifically targeted therapies could be devised to combat the disease. What’s more, “immune system engineering” could train a person’s body to fight the disease harder, possibly removing the need for uncomfortable treatments. None of this is for certain, though, so in the meantime one can only hope that researchers like Dr. Collins can turn these predictions into reality.

 

Questions:

  1. How will healthcare be changed due to advancements in DNA mapping?
  1. Will the expectation of healthcare advancements cause population explosions?

 

Source: Francis S. Collins, “The Future of Medicine is You,” The Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2014. Photo by Heino Boekhout.

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