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How Personalized Medicine Works


Obstacles of Personalized Medicine
Cost is a major obstacle for personalized medicine. Sequencing genomes can cost thousands, and insurance companies have been slow to cover the bulk of tests and products.
Cost is a major obstacle for personalized medicine. Sequencing genomes can cost thousands, and insurance companies have been slow to cover the bulk of tests and products.
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Personalized medicine can improve health care, but it can also complicate it.

One challenge is the temptation to overstate the impact of a given research finding or product. Even if biomarkers are established for a particular disease or treatment, they're not always proven to be the key to better treatment in clinical trials — medicine's gold standard of determining the effectiveness of a medical approach in an unbiased manner with real people [source: Pray].

In addition, the field — and the ability to regulate it in the United States — has posed problems for the Food and Drug Administration, which is focusing on building the infrastructure to keep up with new companies and products.

Personalized medicine also relies heavily on basic science, which takes money and time. The more researchers study cancer and diseases, the more they realize these conditions are complex and shaped by a person's lifestyle and environment.

The epigenome– a layer that sits on top of our genome that turns genes "on" or "off" based on diet, exercise and the environment – adds this complexity to the mix, reflecting the impact a person's lifestyle and environment have on his or her predisposition for illness or disease.

Affordability remains another obstacle. Sequencing and analyzing a person's genome takes more money and time than experts initially predicted.

In order to use genetic information to make an informed clinical decision, one estimate says it will cost at minimum $17,000 per person to sequence a genome and professionally follow up on data of importance for that person [source: Conger]. Hefty price tags for professional genetic testing beyond cancer treatments are likely unaffordable for the average person.

In addition, insurance companies have been slow to cover the vast majority of personalized medicine tests and products because many devices and tests lack the clinical studies to prove effectiveness [source: Hresko and Haga].


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