What The NHS’s Personalised Medicine Strategy Means For Modern Healthcare
When you’re perfectly fit and well, the last thing on your mind is your health.
But when you’re suddenly inflicted by an illness or set of unexplainable symptoms, your health quickly becomes all you think about.
You spend hours Googling symptoms, questioning people you know, and visiting doctors, to eventually be left with a general diagnosis and a course of treatment that works in the same way as dropping an atom bomb on a pinhead target.
What more is to be expected from a model of healthcare which bands people together and treats them according to a small set of common and superficial symptoms.
But with the recognition that many current drugs are only effective in thirty to sixty percent of treated individuals, and resistance rapidly growing to antibiotic treatments, a significant move is being made away from the standardised ‘one size fits all’ approach, and into a new era of personalised and targeted healthcare.
We now have the knowledge to look beyond the set of symptoms and treat patients more as individuals, analysing their particular condition using big data and emerging diagnostic technology, treating the underlying cause of the problem through genomics and stem cell therapy, and keeping an eye on their recovery and adjusting their treatment through real time monitoring.
Looking to be a leader in the field of personalised healthcare is the NHS, who towards the end of last year released and began to roll out an emerging and pioneering strategy for personalised medicine.
Out With The Old System, In With The New
The well-established healthcare model is in many ways built around one of the greatest challenges of the 20th century: infectious disease.
Examining symptoms, diagnosing the infectious agent, addressing the issue with treatments such as antibiotics; this is the familiar process developed to manage the widespread devastation of infectious diseases such as influenza, which in 1918 was the cause of one of the most devastating epidemics in human history.
In the 21st century, the major challenge is no longer infectious disease, but non-communicable disease (NCD)—things like cancer, obesity, and diabetes which kill in total around thirty-eight million people each year.
Rather than an infectious agent, these diseases are driven by a number of factors including ageing, family history, environment, and lifestyle, and are therefore hugely depended on an individuals condition and genetic profile, and are not effectively resolved by homogenous treatment methods.
This big shift in focus demands a whole new way of thinking about healthcare, and is the reason why the NHS has developed the four ‘P’s of personalised medicine: Prediction and prevention of disease; precise diagnoses; personalised and targeted interventions; and a more participatory role for patients.
Preventative And Personalised Healthcare
A commonality among many patients with non-communicable diseases is they could of eliminated, or at least significantly reduced, their risk of developing them.
For a long time it’s been known that prevention strategies, such as having a healthy diet and increasing physical activity, can curb your chances of developing things like cardiovascular disease—stroke and heart attack—type 2 diabetes, and even cancer, but lifestyle suggestions can only do so much—as we are often reminded when healthy individuals are affected by such diseases.
The personalised approach to prevention outlined in the NHS’s strategy goes one step further. It proposes being able to detect a problem long before a patient knows they’re at risk. And patients receiving treatments tailored to their genetic make up, which attack the diseased cells, leave healthy cells in tact, and don’t cause adverse effects.
This is the promise that new technology and new approaches like the four ‘P’s of personalised medicine hold. And at the centre of it all is advancements in the study of our stem cells, DNA, and genomes.
You Can’t Get More Personal Than Your Genome
One of the main focuses of the NHS’s new strategy is on embedding genomic technologies into clinical care pathways and boosting their contribution to the 100,000 genome project.
Working alongside universities, companies, and hospitals, the 10,000 genome project will create a dataset of just as many anonymised genomes. Through matching the data with that from the clinical analysis of thousands of other patients, the initiative hopes to kickstart the UK genomics industry, and make the UK the first country to introduce this technology into its mainstream healthcare system.
The 10,000 genome project will sequence genomes from contributing NHS patients and their families. Through this they promise contributors they’ll be able to deliver better and more tailored tests, drugs, and care; so what exactly is our genome? And how does sequencing it lead to better healthcare?
Many of you’ll be aware of the importance of DNA—the double helix molecule which carries our genetic information and is found in nearly every cell of the body. Well, your genome is all three point two billion letters that make up your DNA.
Within the genome you’ll find around twenty-thousand genes (making up between one to five percent of your genome), along with a whole load of information that helps regulate them, doing things like switching them on and off at the right time.
Looking directly at the genetic code is allowing clinical teams to better understand how disease instigates. For example, in sequencing the genome of a tumour to use in finding out how cancer can be detected earlier. As we can see, this information has potential to lead to new diagnostic and therapeutic applications, as well as new medical insights and scientific discoveries, and crucially provide the basis for more targeted treatments.
Tailor-Made Stem Cell Treatments
For treatments to effectively get hold of such a complex set of diseases like NCDs, they need to target the source of the problem rather than an overlying set of symptoms.
That way any genetic predispositions or abnormalities that are present are dealt with, and healthy, long-term order is restored back to the body. This is done by looking deep into the source of all organs, tissues, and cells in the body: your stem cells.
Stem cells are the mother cells from which every other cell in the body originate—from blood and muscle cells, to bone and brain cells. They therefore hold much power in dictating what happens in the body, including how many new cells are made, what genes are turned on, and how the body repairs itself.
Scientists and researchers around the world are each day demonstrating how our stem cells can be used to deliver effective, targeted therapies, treating and even reversing the likes of diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. However, delaying their introduction into the mainstream has been the problem of extracting them from the body, and making them behave how we want for targeted therapeutic treatments.
But with our teeth now identified as an incredibly rich source of stem cells, and significant advancements taking place in epigenetics (the study of how genes express themselves), the wide scale introduction of stem cell therapy is on the horizon, and the NHS are well prepared to embrace it.
Earlier this year (2016), two children with rare, undiagnosed genetic diseases became the first to be diagnosed through the 10,000 genome project. After sequencing their genomes, researchers were able to pinpoint the exact genetic changes responsible for the diseases, which have manifested themselves in delayed physical and mental development, among other symptoms.
It’s stories like this which show the importance of employing stem cell therapies to work alongside advanced diagnostics, in order for patients to receive holistic and personalised care, from the day they are diagnosed, to the day they are cured.
By taking this more individualised and strategic approach to healthcare, the NHS are putting in place a model which is well suited to tackling the health challenges of the future, and pioneering what could be the start of better healthcare for all.
Prepare for the future of personalised stem cell therapy. Visit our website and find out how we can help safeguard the health of your children by storing stem cells from their milk teeth.