“How are you feeling? What brings you in?” your doctor asks on your visit. She is in search of clues which, perhaps combined with a blood test or a scan, can lead to a diagnosis. Hopefully, for the condition identified, there is a treatment to which you respond well and without side effects. If not, you schedule a next visit for more tests and a new prescribed therapy.
This scenario is familiar to us all. It is a trial and error, traditional approach to medicine—but it’s not the ideal one when it comes to our health. Now, imagine your doctor welcoming you armed with details from your electronic medical record about your treatment history, lifestyle and behaviors, and with insights and knowledge about your genes, your metabolism, and the composition of your gut microbiome. This information will transform your visit, enabling patient and physician alike to manage and fine-tune individual health. For example, your doctor may prescribe a drug or supplement to prevent a health threat for which you are at risk. She may know ahead of time that a certain cancer treatment won’t work for you, and can help you avoid a plethora of serious side effects.
By examining newly available troves of health data, including genomic sequences, patient health records, and the results of diagnostic tests, we can make predictions and recommendations about care. This kind of approach to healthcare is the ultimate goal of the Precision Medicine Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.