Personalized Medicine

Katayoon Kasaian
16 April 2012

There’s a good chance you’ve heard the phrase, “personalized medicine.” But, what does it really mean? Don’t we all receive personal care and treatment every time we visit our doctors?

Traditionally, doctors have been diagnosing diseases and prescribing treatment based on the physical symptoms of the patient. With progress in research, we now know that even if two people suffer from the same disease, they may not benefit from the same treatment. The field of personalized medicine is now moving away from providing this sort of “one size fits all” diagnosis and treatment and instead providing more individually-tailored care.

After all, you wouldn’t necessarily buy the same clothes as the person sitting beside you on the bus, even if you were the same size-- right?! These personalized therapies will be more efficient and result in fewer negative side effects.

Even more important than tailored treatments is the promise of better disease prevention and diagnosis. This can be achieved by examining each person’s genetic make-up at the level of DNA in order to gather information about the likelihood of developing a specific disease. If a person is found to be more prone to developing a disease, then better preventative strategies can be put in place before symptoms occur.

An excellent example of this preventative strategy can be seen in the work that’s being done to examine women with a family history of breast cancer for mutations in a gene known to be linked to the disease. If the women are found to have mutations in this gene, they can opt to go through treatment measures before signs of cancer appear.

Did You Know?
Humans have about 20,000 to 25,000 genes that code for over 500,000 different proteins

Personalized medicine was made possible after the Human Genome Project (HGP) was complete. For the first time, the sequence of the complete human genome was unveiled. This in turn has given us the opportunity to study genes in more detail and find out which ones might be responsible for causing diseases or responding to drugs. And this is why many people believe personalized medicine is the future of healthcare.

Did You Know?
The HGP took 13 years and over 3 billion dollars to sequence the first human genome. Today, it takes about 8 days and $5,000 to sequence a human genome.

Learn More!

Personalized Medicine: An Overview

Canada Invests in Personalized Medicine

Videos made by high school students on Personalized Medicine:

Article first published April 16, 2012

Katayoon Kasaian

I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Bioinformatics program at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I started my undergraduate studies at UBC, specializing in Cell Biology and Genetics. After graduation, I decided to embark on unfamiliar territory! And so, I started a second undergraduate degree in Computer Science. During that program, I received invaluable opportunities to work on several bioinformatic projects at the British Columbia Cancer Agency’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre. Those experiences eventually led to the decision to pursue graduate studies in the field.

My main research project focuses on cancer genomics, analyzing large cancer genome and transcriptome datasets in hopes of finding novel diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic strategies. I am fascinated by how the genomics field has transformed the way we define and treat diseases and excited to be involved in this field when the vision of personalized medicine and in particular personalized cancer treatment is becoming a reality.

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