The 10th Anniversary of the decoding of the human genome has prompted a whole new round of media coverage on progress toward 'personalized medicine i.e., approaches that use genetic information to prevent or treat disease in adults or their children. Not only will drugs be carefully tailored to our individual genetic profile, we will also be able to reduce risks and enhance our health by taking specific lifestyle-related actions that are determined by our unique constellation of DNA.
While I like the sound of these promises, I'm not impatient for their arrival. We've got some work to do to get in shape for the demands personalized medicine will impose on us.
To date we don't have a great track record for making changes in our behavior for the benefit of our health in general witness the levels of physical activity and obesity that persist in this country despite persistent and inescapable messages that more of the former and less of the latter make a big difference to our health. Similarly, many of us are not particularly assiduous in performing actions that have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms and arresting the progress of our chronic conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. It's even tough for some of us to maintain our regimens even when the consequences are dire: we cheat on our chemotherapy, lag in our compliance with anti-rejection drugs following transplants and refuse surgery that has a good chance of keeping us alive following a lung cancer diagnosis.
We have had years of health risk appraisals and cool online tools like Your Real Age all designed to personalize our risk profile and offer guidance on healthy behaviors. But these seem to have mainly appealed to those worried well who are already pushing back from the all'you-can-eat buffets and taking the stairs instead of an elevator. David Ropeik, a consultant in risk perception and risk communication, and author of the new book, How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts shares in a recent Boston Globe article, It's about how a risk feels, not what the statistics or the science say.
What makes anyone think that our current lack of action to minimize our unique risks and get the most from effective treatment will be different in response to personalized medicine based on our genes? We don't seem to be able to think our way to good health behavior...will knowing the risks embedded in our genetic composition lead us to feel and then act -- differently?