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Experts see great opportunities in personalized medicine, but also great challenges on the way there
Modern medicine already enables customized therapies in many places that offer particularly high chances of success. Experts believe that personalized medicine will open up completely new opportunities in the treatment of diseases in the future. But it requires a broad exchange of patient data, which in some places is difficult to reconcile with data protection law.
At the so-called Latsis Symposium at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), experts discussed the possibilities of personalized medicine and made an appeal to politicians to design data protection legislation so that no disabilities arise. According to experts, personalization is a promising advancement in medicine.
Personalized medicine more than individual therapies
The term "personalized medicine" actually hides much more than the individual adjustment of therapy to the needs of the patient. The patient data should be anonymized and standardized grouped in large databases that interested researchers and treating doctors have access to and can evaluate, reports the ETZH. According to the experts, this would take basic medical research and the quality of treatment for individual patients a big step further.
New methods allow extensive analyzes
With the new possibilities offered by molecular methods in medicine, it has become “affordable to determine the genetic makeup of patients, pathogens and tumor cells, as well as the entirety of proteins and metabolic products,” reports the ETZH. Compared to the past, much more disease-relevant data is available today and, in addition, modern methods can be used to molecularly divide individual diseases into ever finer sub-groups, which may require different therapies. More than 200 scientists discussed the opportunities and challenges of personalized medicine at the three-day ETH Latsis Symposium.
Personalized medicine is already in use today
Although the description of the experts still sounds like a dream of the future, Roger Stupp, Director of the Clinic for Oncology at the University Hospital Zurich, emphasized at the symposium: "We are already doing personalized medicine!" Mark Rubin, professor at Cornell University, illustrated the example of cancer medicine the importance of the individual determination of the genetic blueprint of the tumor cells in diagnosis and therapy planning. The regular exchange of oncologists from different clinics to discuss treatment options for patients is already taking place. In his view, an even broader exchange of patient data would offer enormous opportunities for medicine and especially for cancer medicine.
Global data exchange required?
The worldwide exchange of patient data is the prerequisite for personalized medicine, Professor Holger Moch from the University Hospital Zurich describes the most important conclusion of the symposium. "The key to success is building an infrastructure through which a large number of clinics can exchange data," said Mark Rubin. This is a major project, an investment in the future, comparable to the planning and construction of the Gotthard base tunnel. According to the experts, such a comprehensive electronic health database would enable a significant increase in quality in medicine.
Tight framework of data protection
On the way to a comprehensive health database, however, questions of data protection and protection against abuse must first be solved, the experts emphasize. Because the "genome data could not be more personal" and with it a person can not only be clearly characterized, but also a lot of information could be read out, for example, on the susceptibility to hereditary diseases. Nevertheless, the experts rate the current framework of data protection law as too narrow and see this as a hindrance to the "data exchange that is so important for personalized medicine." Legislators are trying to protect patients, but this is hampering medical progress, which is primarily in the interests of patients the oncologist Roger Stupp is quoted in the ETZH announcement. A need for protection that is not in line with reality is put on the eye of the medical profession, according to Stupp. (fp)