Posted by: Sarah Robbins, PhD, 2019-2020 Genetics Education and Engagement Fellow
On May 7, ASHG partnered with the National Hispanic Medical Association to participate in their Twitter chat on precision medicine. ASHG Public Engagement and Advocacy Committee member Kenneth Ramos, MD, PhD answered questions about the All of Us Research Program. Dr. Ramos is the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston and assistant vice chancellor for Health Services at the Texas A&M University System.
We are sharing Dr. Ramos’ responses here in a longer format to reach our members who might have missed the chat on May 7. To find more information on the All of Us Research Program, visit allofus.nih.gov.
ASHG: What is precision medicine?
KR: Precision medicine is a novel approach that combines information on genetic makeup and variability, environment, and lifestyle to individualize the care offered to a patient, or groups of patients, or populations sharing similar characteristics.
Although the term “precision medicine” is relatively new, the concept has been a part of healthcare for years. For example, a person who needs a blood transfusion is not given blood from a randomly selected donor; instead, the donor’s blood type is matched to the recipient to reduce the risk of complications.
ASHG: How can physicians and healthcare providers describe precision medicine to their patients?
KR: The individualization of patient care is becoming mainstay in medicine as healthcare providers, insurance companies, government and the public recognize that “one-size” does not fit all. Precision medicine improves the quality of patient care by improving diagnostic accuracy, increasing the effectiveness of treatments, and reducing the frequency and severity of side effects.
ASHG: How can precision medicine benefit patients and providers?
KR: Precision medicine optimally uses all available and relevant patient data and scientific information to improve the care of provided to patients and populations. This integrated approach can help ensure that patients get the right treatment, at the right dose, and at the right time, with less ill consequences and maximum efficacy.
Genetic testing for breast cancer illustrates how precision medicine can greatly benefit patients and providers. For most women, the risk of developing breast cancer at some point during their life is about 12%. However, certain inherited mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 can substantially increase the risk of breast, and other forms of cancer. For individuals with a personal or family history of cancer, especially cancers of the breast and ovary, genetic testing can help identify variants in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes and provide information to both the patient and the provider to inform future medical decisions.
ASHG: What are some programs making advances in precision medicine?
KR: Many academic health centers and healthcare systems throughout the US have integrated precision medicine approaches into healthcare delivery. The impetus is driven by the adoption of value-based healthcare platforms and the creation of regional networks that capture the ethnic, racial and socioeconomic diversity of the country.
The All of Us Research Program is a national project designed to bring together more than 1 million people from all walks of life and from all regions across the US to share their health data and biological samples to contribute to the future of health care. This large dataset will create an invaluable resource for researchers and health care professionals across the country.
ASHG: Can I still sign up for the All of Us Research Program during the COVID-19 pandemic?
KR: Yes, people can sign up and take part in the program online at JoinAllofUs.org. Existing participants can also sign in to their accounts and answer survey questions.
All in-person appointments and events have been paused at this time.
ASHG: How can precision medicine and All of Us Research Program benefit researchers?
KR: Researchers can use the data shared by program participants combined with new data generated using modern “omics” and digital technologies to better understand the causes of disease and the variability across different groups of individuals in terms of susceptibility and response. This vast resource of data will help uncover the ways that our unique genetics, environment, and lifestyle contribute to our overall health.
ASHG: What areas of healthcare may be most impacted by precision medicine?
KR: Patients and clients in the healthcare system are increasingly demanding “precision solutions” that improve quality of care, while demonstrating cost and comparative effectiveness. The areas most impacted by precision medicine include pharmacogenomics, oncology, healthcare analytics, and preventive medicine.
Thank you NHMA and Dr. Ramos for a successful event! For more events like this, follow ASHG on Twitter @GeneticsSociety.