In the last few years, medicine has deviated even further from the protocols used in the past. The impersonal approach and tendency to identify a patient merely by the name of his or her disease is giving way to new practices that are not only more human, but more effective. Precision medicine represents one of the most avant-garde methods in this field, recognizing the uniqueness of each patient.
Medicine that begins with the patient
Precision medicine is an approach that aims at personalizing prevention, diagnosis and treatment based on each individual person. Every person is different and thus has a different reaction to every disease, both from a physical and psychological point of view, as well as by external factors. For this reason, precision medicine not only analyzes the physical characteristics of a patient, but also takes into account the patient’s environment and lifestyle. When all this information is considered, complex diseases can be given unique characteristics, and thus be diagnosed and treated with greater attention. Ultimately, precision medicine aims at finding the right therapy for the right patient at the right time.
No more useless attempts, intelligent treatments
For years western medicine has based pharmacological treatments on the theory of trial and error. After specific type of medicine is administered, there is a waiting period to see if the desired result is obtained and if the drug has been well-tolerated. If results are negative, an alternative medication is tried. Trial and error attempts create inevitable suffering for the patient in addition to high management costs for the health system (i.e. the quantity of medicine wasted on futile attempts). Recently, however, there has been a change in course. Initial analyses on the biomolecular characteristics of a certain patient affected by a certain disease are carried out in laboratories. Through these analyses, a person’s reaction to a specific type of drug can be predicted. Research on the individuality of every patient lead to personalized pharmacological treatments, patient by patient – case by case, creating greater levels of efficiency and reducing wastefulness and discomfort. The new trend is thus to use a patient-oriented approach, which Domedica has already been doing for years though its Patient Support Programs.
Oncology and new horizons of precision medicine
Even oncology is heading towards more targeted treatments, such as molecule targeted therapy. Solutions such as chemotherapy not only attack tumor cells, but all cells that reproduce quickly causing side effects for hair, skin, the intestinal wall, etc. New smart drugs, instead, attack only cancer cells, thus reducing side effects. In the future, precision medicine could go even further, analyzing the “epigenome”, or rather, a network of elements that modify DNA without altering DNA sequences, but that regulate the expression of the genome (the aspect of the organism, morphological characteristics of the body, etc.). What does the epigenome have to do with precision medicine and cancer treatments? We must not forget that diseases are not only caused by genes, but by the environment, which modifies the epigenome. Thus, if one day we are able to decipher the genetic code and the influence of environmental factors, we could study drugs that are even more specific to each individual case. These are still only hypotheses, but so many investments are being made in precision medicine that there is a good possibility that in the next few years today’s hypotheses will be tomorrow’s concrete solutions.
Italy invests in the future
Italy is also investing in this field of research. Nearly 30 million euros in funding was granted to open a technopole (TecnoMED) dedicated to precision medicine. The facility will be located at Nanotec-Cnr in the city of Lecce in Puglia and in the clinical facilities of the University and Cancer Institute in Bari. TecnoMed’s main objective is to give new impetus to research in precision medicine, especially in the prevention and treatment of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. With the security of 4 years of financing, the technopole will be able count on the most advanced technologies and aim at creating a pole of European importance in order to transform Puglia into a center of excellence in this field and reduce the percentage of “brain drain” to the North of Italy or to other European countries. Incubation and acceleration programs created from innovative entrepreneurial initiatives will have the task of developing research results and transforming them into industrial products that are available to physicians and patients. This investment gives the idea of just how important precision medicine will become in the immediate future.
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