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Every human being is unique. Not only in terms of external appearance and character, but also when it comes to characteristics which are not immediately evident: each of us has our own individual genetic makeup. In conjunction with the world around us, this gives rise to our personal signature. And this is also why each of us is healthy – or indeed ill – in our own specific way.
One drug for all?
“This is in fact an age-old subject”, says Professor Heyo K. Kroemer, Chairman of the Managing Board of the University Medical Center Göttingen. “Pharmacologists have long been exploring why we use one drug to treat all sufferers of a disease in the same way.” These days, this question is driving research and medicine forward: personalized medicine will use more reliable predictions and diagnoses and tailor-made drugs to spare patients unnecessary treatment. In the long term, this should make medical care more efficient and indeed cheaper.
Every tumour is different
The idea of personalized treatment has long been pursued in cancer therapy. After all, every tumour is different, too. The university hospitals in Cologne and Bonn have established a Center for Integrated Oncology which aims to provide cancer patients with more targeted therapy. This is also the objective at the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) (only nin German) in Heidelberg, where biologists and doctors use sequencing machines to analyse the tumour’s genetic makeup – and can then recommend drugs on the basis of this information. In turn, the genetic analyses are used to find points of attack in tumours for new cancer drugs.
A drop of blood supplies a huge amount of information
Professor Heyo K. Kroemer has applied this approach to the treatment of widespread medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. In the GANI_MED project which he already initiated at Greifswald University Hospital back in 2009, specific patients are picked out who will definitely respond well to a particular therapy. This requires a thorough screening process: a special device known as a mass spectrometer can identify up to 1,000 different proteins in a single drop of blood, providing a snapshot of the patient’s individual metabolic status. This is combined with genetic and anatomical data, as well as information about the patient’s lifestyle and habits.
How can patient privacy be preserved nonetheless?
“We need this data for individualized medicine – it’s essential”, says Kroemer. Which is why he is calling for this kind of medical treatment to be entrusted not to private, commercially-run firms but to the public sector – university hospitals, for instance. Despite the meticulous collection of data that happens at Greifswald, patient privacy is to be preserved nonetheless. To this end, philosophers and legal experts are involved in the project alongside doctors and natural scientists.
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