• Precision Medicine - Sounds like the Way of the Future

    by Dr. Susan Sklar
    on Mar 17th, 2015

President Obama has announced a new research initiative that accelerates progress toward a new era of Precision Medicine.  This is a field of medicine that treats patients according to individualized variability. This means studying diseases leased on an individual’s genetics and unique metabolism.  This is certainly an advance over conventional medicine which has only a few doses of medications that are given to everyone regardless of ability to tolerate or metabolize them.

Oncology (the treatment of cancers) is the first field chosen for study for Precision Medicine. The idea is that drugs will be developed that target specific cancers based on their genetic makeup. Sounds like a good idea.  It remains to be seen whether this will actually result in longer life and less disability. So far, many of the new wonder drugs for cancer treatment prolong life a matter of weeks or 1-2 months.  This, at tremendous expense and frequently severe side effects.

After oncology, the Precision Medicine plan is to expand the understanding and prevention of a wider variety of diseases.

While these are noble goals, they ignore the bigger picture. Genetics certainly plays a role in disease.  More important than genetics are the effects of environmental factors on our genes.  This is called epigenetics.  So, if your genes are the gun, the environmental factors pull the trigger. Your genetics are not your destiny.  The interaction of your genes creates your destiny.  It is estimated that your health is comprised of 20% genetic factors and 80% environmental factors—things like diet, exercise, and toxin exposure from your environment

An impressive example of this are the Pima Indians.  While the Pima Indians of the southwest United States have the same genetics as a similar group in Mexico, their disease profiles are very different.

The U. S. Pimas have a very high rate of diabetes and obesity.  The Pima of Mexico do not have more diabetes thatn the average population.  What’s the  difference?  Diet and activity. The Pima of the United States  have been displaced from their original way of life—one of being out in nature and close to the land. A high caloric intake of unhealthy foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle has caused these people with a genetic predisposition to actually develop diabetes at a very high rate. Their Mexican counterparts, with a very active lifestyle and diet of basic, unprocessed foods do not develop diabetes.

So, while the U.S. government is focusing on genetics and pharmaceutical agents for treating disease, it is ignoring some of the major causes of disease and routes to prevention. Toxins from industrial pollution, plastics and pesticides cause Parkinson’s, cancer, obesity and diabetes. Where is the government intervention to decrease these pollutants? What about the fast food and processed food industries? They are all being left to monitor themselves and pay lip service to making significant healthy changes in our food supply.

While Precision Medicine may become a reality in the future, what we need right now is old fashioned cleaning up of our environment, food supply, and water. That will go far in improving the health of the entire nation.

Author Dr. Susan Sklar

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