Genomics: A Revolution in Medical Science

A few decades ago, further investigation was not done when a person was diagnosed with cancer. Effective treatments of cancer were not available and thus finding out the type of cancer was of no help.

However modern medicine has changed this concept. Now only cancer diagnosis is not sufficient; further investigation is a must, because different cancers respond differently to different treatments. Thus differentiating cancers help physicians to target drugs more precisely, in more effective and efficient way.

Over the past few years, genomics has been popular in medicine. It took decades and billions of dollars to sequence the first human genome. But now with the help of modern tools the same thing can be achieved in just a few days and at much lower cost. This, obviously, opens up vast possibilities for medicine, to record and analyse the genetic code of thousands of people easily.

Every person’s genome is unique with minute variations. A person’s health stems from his genetic variation and behaviour, influenced by environment. However these genetic variations may be an explanation for non communicable diseases and varied responsiveness towards drugs. For example, ADHD medicine only works for 10% of preschoolers, cancer drugs are effective for 25% of patients, and depression drugs work with 60% of patients.

According to the World Health Organisation, in Western countries, nearly 90% of the population will die of a non-communicable disease including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Environmental factors like smoking, drinking, obesity and sometimes just the genes increase the risk of suffering of any of those non-communicable diseases. Identification of genes associated with non-communicable diseases would thus help us to take preventive measures. For example,

  • Breast cancer: Mutation in BRCA1 gene increases the risk of breast cancer from 12.5 % to 60 – 90% in healthy women.  Therefore to avoid breast cancer women having this specific mutation can opt for mastectomy.
  • High blood pressure or heart disease: Statins could be prescribed specifically people having genetic variants associated with high blood pressure or heart disease.

Experts think that with the help of a patient’s genetic information doctors are now able to target patients with the interventions that will work best on them: a true individualised medicine. Thus this genomic revolution has the potential to transform medicine and save more lives.

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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