Why personalised medicine is the future of healthcare
This Healthy Lifestyle Awareness Month, learn how genetic testing can help you determine which diet, lifestyle, and medication are best for your long-term health
We are at a pivotal moment in healthcare. Advances in both the understanding and accessibility of genetic testing are giving healthcare professionals and their patients a unique understanding of human biology with new ways to analyse health data.
With more people using commercial genetic tests to learn more about their DNA, genetics testing has progressed to offer people far more than paternity tests. The screening, diagnosis, treatment and even prevention of diseases is enabling doctors to transform people’s lives more quickly and effectively – ensuring the right treatment for the right patient at the right time.
“Our genes determine who we are,” says Dr Danny Meyersfeld, CEO of DNAlysis Biotechnology, one of South Africa’s premier genetic testing laboratories. “From our predisposition to various chronic diseases, to how we respond to environmental input, determining our unique requirements for nutrients for optimal health, the most appropriate diet type to improve weight management, how we respond to certain medications, and even how certain lifestyle choices may benefit one individual over another, our genes are the key to identifying personalised healthcare needs.”
Why genetic medicine?
Genetic tests look for small changes or variations in your DNA that have been shown in the scientific literature to modify the way in certain genes function. This in turn affects the biochemistry within the cell leading to a host of potential health consequences.
Meyersfeld says that traditional medical practice often applies the same treatments to all patients with the same disease, regardless of genetics and other contributing factors. “This approach to treatment has limitations as there are many factors contributing to disease,” says Meyersfeld. “Personalised medicine recognises that we are all unique and that standardised treatment is no longer sufficient to ensure the optimal health of the individual. It improves the specificity and effectiveness of medicine, by making it more targeted and specific to each patient. It also allows the patient to take control of their own health.”
There is no better example of the value of a personalised medicine approach than considering the massive number of hospitalisations and deaths attributable to adverse drug reactions. Differences in inherited makeup among individuals affect what the body does to a drug and what the drug does to the body. In the same way that our DNA determines characteristics such as eye and hair colour, it also controls the way our enzymes work. Variations in DNA affect the enzymes that process medications. “For a particular pharmaceutical product to be effective, it needs to be present in the bloodstream at a specific concentration,” says Meyersfeld. Depending on which enzymes a person has or doesn’t have, their reaction to a drug can be faster or completely dormant.
How does a DNA test work?
DNA is a molecule that exists inside the cells of all living things. It contains all the information needed to create life. The strands of DNA in your cells are wound up into structures called chromosomes. You get 23 chromosomes from each of your parents for a total of 46. Of those, 44 are called autosomes and the other two are sex chromosomes. Autosomal DNA contains most of the code that makes up who you are.
When you get a DNA test kit, you’ll get a set of instructions to follow so you can get a sample of DNA from your body to the lab.
How accurate are DNA tests?
With the rise of direct-to-consumer DNA kits, which can be ordered online, Meyersfeld advises consumers that it is important to ensure that the testing laboratory is accredited to international standard and that it is technically competent and able to produce precise and accurate test data.
DNAlysis offers training to healthcare practitioners to ensure the appropriate and responsible use of genetic testing. “It is only in the hands of a well-trained clinician that genetic tests become truly valuable,” says Meyersfeld. “When they buy a DNA test, our customers are asked to select a practitioner from our accredited network to guide them through the consultation process.”
Now is the time to take control of your health proactively so you can prevent the onset of disease. Speak to your healthcare practitioner about how genetic testing can provide valuable diagnostic insights to help you better understand where you may be at risk, and better manage your wellbeing.
You can also visit https://dnalysis.co.za to find an accredited practitioner or buy a DNA test online. A practitioner from the DNAlysis accredited network will guide you through the process.