Institute for Personalized Medicine established by Pitt, UPMC
Drugs like Plavix, which prevents blood clots in people with coronary artery and vascular diseases, benefit millions of people.
But some people who take them find they don't work.
“About 15 percent of people who take Plavix don't activate it properly. There are lots of people who are taking it who are not benefiting from it at all,” said Jeremy Berg, a University of Pittsburgh specialist in personalized medicine.
Personalized medicine tailors treatment to individuals based on increasingly accessible genetic information. The data are used, for example, to predict a patient's likelihood of developing types of cancer, determine which therapies or drugs will work for diseases like asthma or even how to treat a particular case of influenza.
Berg, a bio-organic chemist with a doctorate in chemistry from Harvard University, is the first director of the new Institute for Personalized Medicine, a joint project from Pitt and UPMC that they introduced this month.
“The goal of setting up the institute, and others like it, is to make personalized medicine real. It improves the chances of getting better therapies and treatments to the public,” Berg said.
Research being done into genetically informed treatments and therapies has been going on for years. This is the second personalized medicine institute to open in the state in the past 12 months, the other being the Hershey Institute for Personalized Medicine, operated by Penn State that opened in February.
Institutes such as these get treatments from research labs to patients, doctors and scientists said.
“It's patient-driven medicine, as opposed to mass-produced medicine,” said Dr. Naftali Kaminski, a UPMC pulmonologist and director of the Dorothy P. and Richard P. Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at UPMC.
Patients undergo a complete genome sequence, a process that was once cost-prohibitive and is still expensive, but becoming less so with better technology.
“Many diseases look the same. But patients with asthma do not all respond to the same therapies. A genomic profile could tell a lot about how to treat people. The same is true with influenza. Not all patients with the flu need antiviral therapy, which is expensive and has side effects. So if someone has the genes for protection, we don't need to poison them with drugs,” he said.
The cost of mapping the first human genome in 1993 was $3 billion.
“Within a year, it will be about $1,000 to get a complete genome sequence,” said Berg, who has directed divisions at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and, most recently, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Kaminski's main field of research is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring or thickening of the lungs, which has no known cause. The disease is incurable, and patients diagnosed with it live an average of three years.
Though some drugs to manage the condition are in clinical trials, the only real solution is a lung transplant.
Yet, Kaminski said, “The disease behaves differently in different people.”
Kaminski and other researchers recently discovered a panel of blood proteins that predict how long patients with pulmonary fibrosis might live.
“That information helps determine the best time for a patient to have a transplant,” he said.
There are at least 30 personalized medicine institutes in the United States, including the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Duke University, the Ohio State University Medical Center and the University of Rochester.
Personalized medicine “is taking us away from one-size-fits all medicine,” said Edward Abrahams, executive director of the Personalized Medicine Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy organization with 250 members.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.