By Diya Ramesh (‘23)
Precision medicine allows for patient-specific treatments and prevention options, and genes are one of the factors that are taken into consideration for this customized healthcare
Previously seen on the PrecisionMedicine Show:
From reduced side effects, to a better focus in healthcare, and the opportunity to save many lives, there are countless benefits to precision medicine.
So, now you might be wondering, “Precision medicine sounds great and all, but how do I really know that it’s so crucial?” Well, don’t take my word for it. You can ask one of the three survivors whose lives were saved by precision medicine and whose stories we are about to discuss.
Our first story comes from William Elder Jr. William was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age eight and at a time period when the life expectancy for people with the disease was quite low. However, he was saved by a treatment used in patients who have specific genetic mutations. After his first use of the treatment, William was finally able to breathe clearly through his nose and told his parents, “For the first time in my life, I truly believe that I will live long enough to be a grandfather”.
Our next amazing experience with precision medicine comes from the story of Emily Whitehead. At age five, Emily was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and after two relapses, she was not expected to survive for more than a few weeks. However, Emily’s journey did not end there, as she was saved by CAR T-cell therapy, was the first child patient on the planet to be given this treatment, and has been free of cancer ever since.
Our last story is about the all-time high scorer of the NBA and six-time MVP, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia and was given two targeted therapies for treatment. He is alive today and believes that precision medicine allowed for this to occur.
These stories are awe-inspiring and show just how transformative precision medicine is. Just imagine if everyone had access to precision medicine. How many more people could we help? How many more lives could we save? However, this is where our problem comes in. *Cue the ominous music.*
The issue is in relation to insurance coverage. As stated by a board member of the American Medical Association, “Many patients do not have access to precision medicine because most public and private health insurers do not offer coverage for genetic and genomic services unless certain clinical criteria or evidentiary standards are met”. Essentially, insurance companies desire more “proof” in the quality of precision medicine options, so these options will not be covered until this evidence is provided. This causes difficulties for patients, as many are unable to pay for the different components that make up precision medicine. This causes them to lose these crucial options, and at the same time, they will be faced with inequities in healthcare, since other patients may be able to pay for these options.
Do not fear though, because there are ways through which we can combat this difficulty. Here at the PrecisionMedicine Show, we propose increased funding for research and clinical trials. As quoted from Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Harold Varmus, former director of the National Cancer Institute, “What is needed now is a broad research program to encourage creative approaches to precision medicine, test them rigorously, and ultimately use them to build the evidence base needed to guide clinical practice”. This solution allows for three primary benefits. First, it provides the evidence needed to compel insurance companies to offer coverage for precision medicine options, thus leading to more patients having access to these options. Additionally, this same evidence can be utilized to convince more patients to use precision medicine options. Finally, more funding allows for further research to be conducted, thus leading to scientists being able to improve current precision medicine techniques and create newer and more effective ones as well. Hopefully, through these types of solutions, we can create a world where everyone has access to precision medicine, in order to save lives and change the world, one patient at a time.
Well, that’s it. Our final episode of the PrecisionMedicine Show. We hope you enjoyed the show while learning about precision medicine, but remember to stay tuned, because we might just put out a mid/post-credits scene surprise!