SF State News {University Communications}

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Experts discuss future of personalized medicine

June 9, 2010 -- Could humans someday make decisions about their health and day-to-day choices on iPhone-like devices? If genetic testing and personalized medicine continues to advance, that scenario could happen sooner rather than later, according to author and journalist David Ewing Duncan.

A photo of author David Ewing Duncan.

Author David Ewing Duncan discussed his experiences with genetic testing during "Personalized Medicine 3.0 - Targeting Cancer."

Duncan, speaking at "Personalized Medicine 3.0 - Targeting Cancer," held at SF State on May 25, discussed a future that could improve patients' health and treatments.

Duncan wrote "Experimental Man," which recounts his experiences being tested for hundreds of chemicals and genes associated with disease. The tests produced a mountain of data -- including an elevated risk for heart attack that was previously unknown.

Duncan continues to undergo tests, and foresees a future when humans may consult iPhone-type devices to assess health risks involved with daily decisions. But he cautions putting too much stock into genetic tests before they have a chance to be more closely examined. "We have to be careful with this information," he said, "until these tests are really validated."

Personalized medicine takes information gleaned from genomic data to prescribe targeted treatments and preventive measures for segments of the population. For example, if a patient is found to have certain genetic traits that make him susceptible to a particular malady, doctors can prescribe preventive treatment. Genetic data could also be helpful for identifying treatments that are more effective for certain patients.

"That allows you to decide if you are one of the high- or low-risk people and allows you to spend money in the gym, not on prescriptions," said Biology Department Chair Michael Goldman, who helped organize the conference.

Other speakers at the conference discussed advancements in genetics and personalized medicine, and implications for the future of medicine. An afternoon panel discussed personalized medicine in the context of recently-passed health care reform.

Moderated by ABC 7's Carolyn Johnson, panel members discussed whether reform would make access to genetic testing -- and thus personalized medicine -- more difficult.

The group discussed the impact of reform and whether diagnostic tests would be covered by insurers. For example, a little more than half of patients who are supposed to receive a specific genetic test, or HER2, to determine the best treatment for breast cancer, actually undergo the test. Ryan Phelan, president, founder and CEO of DN Direct said the quality of the diagnosis suffers, and therefore, so does the treatment. "We have made so much progress in personalized medicine," she said. "The problem is that it's not adopted. If we would just do that with what we know, we would all be much better off."

The conference comes at a time when biotech education opportunities are growing at SF State. The University recently graduated its first group of students in the stem cell master's program. In May, the biology department also received a $700,000, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation for a professional science master’s program.

-- Michael Bruntz


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