Charlotte Begley explores the prospect of medicine personalised for the individual

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Over the past decade, discussion of the possibility of personalised medicine in the NHS has been increasing. It has been a point regarded as having great potential in the future of healthcare, but there has so far been little opportunity to translate this from theory to reality.

However, this concept is now coming into practice. From 1st October 2018, the NHS will be introducing such procedures as part of routine health assessments.

'Such technology can allow for greater efficiency in the treatment of disease, saving the NHS both time and money'

Personalised medicine can be defined as using technologies to assess the genetic makeup of a patient. This allows for the determination of specific genetic traits linked to the cause of a disease that can be targeted in treatment. This information can be used in diagnosing rare diseases, or be taken into consideration when prescribing medication to ensure a negative reaction will not occur in susceptible individuals. Such technology can allow for greater efficiency in the treatment of disease, saving the NHS both time and money. For example, medicines with a greater chance of being effective can be prescribed based on the genetics of a patient, reducing costs associated with the ‘trial-and-error’ tactic commonly used in healthcare which leads to unused medication that goes to waste. Further to this, earlier diagnosis of conditions comes with the advantage of potentially cheaper management of the disease. Prevention of illness is widely considered a better option than treating any resulting complications. It gives better quality of life for the patient, and less time and money would need to be invested by the NHS to treat what would likely be more severe symptoms by the time of diagnosis.

Improved understanding of the impact of genetics on disease states is highly appealing. It would allow for the design of therapeutics based around the genes noted to be associated with disease, for example. However, this goes hand in hand with potential ethical concerns. Stricter guidelines in terms of informed consent must be revised and published in response to a new system such as this. Patients must be made aware of the potential use of data in research before this takes place to give them the choice to opt out of the procedure.

Overall the prospect of personalised medicine as a routine healthcare assessment appears to show great promise. However, ethical concerns must still be monitored throughout the initial roll-out of the service, and in later years when the techniques may be expanded into further areas of the NHS.

Written by Charlotte Begley