Power asymmetries, participation, and the idea of personalised medicine

Authored by: Barbara Prainsack

Handbook of Genomics, Health and Society

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138211957
eBook ISBN: 9781315451695
Adobe ISBN:


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The concept of personalised medicine gained considerable traction in the beginning of our millennium. One of the reasons for this was that the Human Genome Project – a multinational endeavour to map a full human genome starting in early 1991 – had been expected to deliver key insights into the causes for health and disease (Hilgartner, 2017). It was hoped that it would also lead to the ability to match drug treatments to the genetic makeup of individual patients (Collins et al., 2003; Hedgecoe, 2004; Tutton, 2014). Today, genetic tests can indeed determine whether a person is genetically predisposed to producing fewer or more of the enzymes involved in the metabolism and intestinal absorption of certain drugs, for example. If a patient produces fewer of these enzymes than other people, she should be given a lower dose, because more of the drug will remain in her body for longer, putting her at a higher risk for adverse drug events. Another example of the translation of findings from the Human Genome Project into the clinic is tumour profiling: if a patient’s breast cancer tumour does not express specific hormone receptors, certain types of cancer treatments would have no effect. Such patients can be given different treatments to spare them the side effects.

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