As human interactions at all levels become more digital, more informed by what is loosely known as Big Data, medicine joins in the trend, in many contexts becoming “precision medicine,” where cardiologists for example no longer treat “a heart” but “this patient’s heart,” because it is possible to connect patients to optimal treatments by genetics, history, environment, and lifestyle to a greater degree than ever before.
Yes, skeptics might not believe that there is much new here. Some personalization of medicine has been around for a long time. For example, a person who needs a blood transfusion is not given blood from a randomly selected donor; in blood transfusions donor’s blood type is matched to the recipient to reduce the risk of complications.
But the 21st century drive goes much further than such 20th century examples. It notably includes pharmacogenetics, the study of how genes affect individual responses to particular medications.
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Precision medicine may have special significance in cancer research. In principle, genetic tests could held decide whether radiation, chemo, or surgery will most likely work best, with the lightest side effects, for whom.