The key to solving some of the world’s biggest healthcare challenges may just be within us.
Modern medicine is rapidly expanding and developing treatments that is slowly making the incurable, curable. With each step forward, we are inching closer to a reality where we can prolong our lives, with active minds and healthy muscles.
Advanced genomics could change all this
The deadliest killer of humans lurks within our own bodies. Non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes, is the number one cause of death and disability worldwide.1
According to the World Health Organisation, NCD accounts for 71 per cent of global mortality. Every year, 15 million people between 30 to 69 years old die from NCD. Of these ‘premature’ deaths, over 85% are estimated to occur in developing countries.
But a relatively new branch of molecular biology that focuses on the study of genes and their functions is tackling the problem head-on. Scientists apply new techniques such as DNA sequencing methods and bioinformatics to analyse sequence, as well as assemble the structure and function of genomes.
This helps to sequence one’s DNA, which is then used to monitor, predict and diagnose diseases, including cancer. Personalised medicine, also known as precision medicine, is being hailed as the future of medicine.
How personalised medicine works
The idea behind personalised medicine is that doctors will be able to select treatments based on a genetic understanding of a patient’s disease.
Take cancer as an example. Depending on the genetic make-up, the spread of cancer differs by individual. Chemotherapy and drugs will work with varying effectiveness, depending on the genetic make-up.
But with personalised medicine and a clear genetic map, doctors can tailor treatment plans, with drugs developed for specific genetic profiles. This will not only alleviate unnecessary suffering but also reduce costs of treatment.
It will also raise the likelihood of success and save many more lives. A 2017 PriceWaterhouseCoopers report found that using a genetic test on breast cancer patients reduced chemotherapy use by 34 per cent.
The potential for personalised medicine will continue to grow, aided by technologies such as artificial intelligence, and wearable technology. The data accumulated by such devices, combined with the application of smart analytics, will boost the efficiency, effectiveness and accuracy of this branch of treatment.
Into the future
The field of personalised medicine is quickly gaining traction, with governments seeing the benefits of supporting the industry.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health is also exploring a national strategy to boost the use of personalised medicine. In fact, some treatments are already on its way to being rolled out to the public. One example is the use of precision proton beams to treat cancer. Proton therapy uses 60 per cent less radiation than convention radiation therapy, resulting in lower risk of damage to healthy tissue around the tumour.2
Some scientists are also exploring the idea of gene editing – the process of adding or replacing a missing gene in a patient’s DNA. This radical theory is based on the idea that the body itself can fight off any illness or disease, provided it has the right genes.
For now, it remains on the fringes of medical treatments but scientists and doctors are getting closer to their goal. One barrier so far has been the high costs of DNA sequencing, which is required to identify a person’s DNA. But the costs have been progressively dropping, from US$1000 a test to about US$100 a test today.3
We may not live forever but modern medicine offers hope and a future for those affected by genetic or incurable diseases. It can improve the quality of the human life and with rapid advancements driving down costs over time, new treatments will be more affordable and accessible to many lives.
Find out more about the United Global Innovation Fund, which invests in innovative companies across various industries.
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