Sep 6, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by Jason Karlawish
Jason Karlawish, MD, is a professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of Penn’s Neurodegenerative Disease Ethics and Policy Program. He is the recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research.
“Prescribe the right drug to the right patient at the right time” is not a new medical practice, but when a biomarker—that is, a measure of disease pathophysiology—or a gene makes this decision, that is a radically new medical practice. The promise of personalized medicine is that biomarker and gene driven algorithms will do much of the work of medicine. By predicting patients’ future health and the outcomes of an intervention, they will guide what doctors recommend to their patients. Like the theory of evidence-based medicine, personalized medicine promises a more objective, efficient and precise medical practice.
To date, personalized medicine has largely flourished “below the neck,” that is, in the care of patients with common medical diseases, particularly cancer and cardiovascular disease. In the last two decades though, the National Institutes of Health, the pharmaceutical industry, and researchers have invested substantial time and money in research such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (called “ADNI”) dedicated to discovering and validating the biomarkers and genes that predict whether a brain will fail. This research is beginning to reshape how we talk about the diagnosis and treatment of the aging brain, an organ that is more and more, like hearts and bones, regarded as an organ “at risk.” As a result, clinicians, ethicists, and health care policy-makers are beginning to ask how we should practice personalized medicine for the seemingly healthy brain that is at risk for neurodegenerative dementias such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lewy Body Disease and frontotemporal lobar degeneration.