How will genetic technology shape personalized medicine?

Genetic testing can increase the use of personalized medicine.
Genetic testing can increase the use of personalized medicine.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Technology has revolutionized everything from entertainment to work, with people increasingly personalizing various aspects of life to meet their needs. A similar trend is happening in medicine. More and more, healthcare is tailored according to our particular strengths and weaknesses. And while the term "personalized medicine" has a newfangled ring to it, this approach dates back to ancient times, when Hippocrates prescribed sweet elixirs to some and astringent ones to others, depending on each patient's particular characteristics [source: Scitable]. The modern version of personalized medicine is rooted in the same principles, and it's getting a lot of help from genetic technology.

In recent years, genetic research has improved our understanding of what it means to be human. This is partly due to the Human Genome Project, an effort by the U.S. government to identify the genes that make up human DNA [source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory]. Completed in 2003, the hope was that it would kick-start "genomic medicine," where healthcare would be delivered based on the characteristics of our genetic profile as well as our medical history.

Personalized medicine usually involves a combination of genetic testing (to determine propensity for certain diseases); suggestions for lifestyle changes; detection of diseases at the molecular level; and customized treatments for diseases, rather than a "one size fits all" approach [source: Personalized Medicine Coalition]. It is still in its infancy but is likely to influence traditional medicine more and more over time.

But how close are we to achieving the hope of molecular medicine? And how will genetic technology shape personalized medicine? Before we answer that question, let's weigh the pros and cons of knowing yourself on a genetic level.