A vision of personalised care

By 2030, all Australians could have genetic screening done early in life to provide individual risk profiles, a new paper on personalised medicine forecasts

The new Occasional Paper, from the Office of Australia’s Chief Scientist, explores the potential of precision medicine – encompassing the collective impact of advances in genomics, data science and computing.

The Paper draws on a report produced by Australia’s Learned Academics, working collaboratively as ACOLA.

It outlines a 2030 goal which would see a move from reactive medicine which treats the sick with “average care” for the “average” patient, towards a predictive model which would preserve health through customised care for each individual.

As well as genetic screening early in life, the goals for 2030 include early intervention before symptoms appear in individuals, reducing the risk of disease and improving chances of recovery.

Instead of the most common treatment being provided first, the right treatment would be offered first.

“Personalised treatments maximise efficacy, avoid side-effects and are cost-effective,” the paper says.

It gives the example of Alzheimer’s disease: several genes have been identified which appear to increase the risk of developing the disease with age.

“Researchers believe that early intervention for those at high risk will be the most promising way to postpone onset, improve quality of life and ultimately beat the disease,” the report says.

“Genomic research enables asymptomatic individuals who are at high risk to be recruited for clinical trials to accelerate the discovery of effective therapies.”

Data privacy and equity are issues which need to be addressed: for example, for decades, life insurance applicants in Australia have been required to disclose all relevant health information, including genetic tests done for reasons other than clinical purposes, such as for research or genealogy.

“Other countries have introduced laws to ensure that employment and life insurance are not unfairly denied to anyone due to such data profiles,” the report says.

“Australia can learn from the experience of these jurisdictions in seeking to ensure that precision medicine does not come at unfair personal cost.”

“We know that every human is a one-off result of their genes and their life experiences,” Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel said.

“Advances in science and technology are clearing the way to what medicine has always aspired to provide: person-specific, custom-fit care.”

He also emphasised the importance of public policy in guiding the healthcare transition ahead.

“Precision medicine can ensure that Australian life expectancies remain amongst the highest in the world, but patients must have confidence that their personal data will be protected.”

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