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New study could help doctors personalize medical treatments

Posted on 07-07-16 in Medicine, Research, Treatment

New study could help doctors personalize medical treatments

People are very different from each other. This is great for making parties interesting, but in medicine, those differences can be a problem.

Take chronic diseases for an example. Most people who have diabetes, which affects the body’s ability to regulate glucose, have the same symptoms. However, the individual biological differences found in each person make diabetes hard to treat because not everybody responds to treatment the same way. Tailoring treatment to an individual’s specific biological needs – a medical field called personalized medicine – has become something of a holy grail for researchers. But it’s a difficult goal to reach, as personalizing treatment requires compiling information on a person’s individual genetics, chemistry and biology.

A groundbreaking new study from Switzerland could change that.

Opening a “black box”

Researchers from two Swiss colleges, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule Zurich (ETH Zurich) took tissue samples from 40 different mice strains – all of the mice in the study had the same two ancestors, making them genetically related to each other. The researchers then measured 2,600 different proteins from the mice.

Next, the researchers divided the mice into groups – one group was fed a diet rich in unhealthy fats and the other group received a low-fat healthy diet. As the study progressed, the researchers charted how quickly the mice in the groups gained weight and lost it through exercise. Although the mice were genetically similar, the high-fat diet mice had different responses to exercise and diet – some of the high-fat mice developed disorders like fatty liver, and others didn’t.

The researchers then combined the data with data on the mice’s genome, proteome and transcriptome. This allowed the researchers to successfully make a connection between an individual’s genome – a complete set of an organism’s DNA – and the variation of their proteomes, a full set of an individual’s proteins. This allowed the researchers to gain a better understanding the role proteins play as they metabolize and produce energy from fat.

“There is a black box between a patient’s genome and their disease,” said EPFL’s Johan Auwerx, M.D., study co-author in an EPFL press release. “What we have done here is find a way to fill the black box by obtaining information on the patient’s proteome.”

Benefits of precision medicine

Personalized medicine, also known as precision medicine, is defined by the National Institutes of Health as “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person.” It’s a new term with a long history – for example, blood transfusions, which are always matched to the recipient’s blood type, have been an example of precision medicine for decades.

The approach received a boost in 2015 when President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) in that year’s State of the Union address. The PMI will invest $215 million in the NIH, the National Cancer Institute, the Food & Drug Administration and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology toward genetic research, databases and the development of standards to support privacy and data security.

Precision medicine also has a role to play in mental health

The precision approach in treatment

The NIH has its own analogue to precision medicine: Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). The RDoC’s goal is to develop more accurate diagnoses based on the biological, cultural and psychological roots of mental disorders. Approaching patients as individuals is central to Sovereign Health’s philosophy. By recognizing our patients as individuals with different needs, we are able to craft effective, tailored treatment programs that give our patients the best chance at a lasting recovery. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at