On July 1-2, I visited the NIH’s main campus in Bethesda, MD to attend a public workshop related to developing an all-inclusive national research cohort as part of the Obama Administration’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). One major component of the PMI is the creation of this national research cohort of over one million Americans who will share genetic data, biological samples, and lifestyle information within a database of electronic health records. This model serves to engage participants and promote responsible data sharing.
Precision medicine refers to an individualized approach to disease treatment and prevention, accounting for genes, environment, and personal lifestyle. While this practice has typically been implemented for select cancers, it can and should also be utilized for the treatment of many other conditions, such as heart disease.
One conversation in which my ears really perked up brought up the issue of individualized treatments for particular racial groups. The anthropology course I took this past year called the Anthropology of Race, Ethnicity, and Health delved into this idea of racialized medicine, particularly with the lesson on BiDil, a drug treating hypertension in African Americans. While certain diseases may disproportionately affect certain demographics due to environmental and/or lifestyle factors, we cannot forget the amount of variability present within each demographic group and across demographic groups. The PMI’s holistic approach of accounting for all of the factors that contribute to an individual’s experience of disease really supports this idea that everyone is biologically unique and should be treated as such.