Intermountain, University of Michigan advance precision medicine for cardiovascular care, cancer

Two new studies shine a light on the promise and accelerating speed of precision medicine and genomics capabilities to transform healthcare faster than many observers might imagine.

Intermountain Healthcare and the University of Michigan separately conducted research projects that uncovered a genetic link in a rare cardiovascular condition and a flaw in androgen-specific therapies, respectively. 

Taken together, the two give a glimpse into the future of precision medicine tactics pinpointing incredibly specific findings clinicians can use to personalize treatment regimens. 

That’s an expectation echoed by healthcare leaders inside and outside the research realm. 

Leroy Hood, Chief Science Officer at Providence St. Joseph and a key player in the Human Genome Project, for instance, said at the HIMSS Precision Medicine Summit in Washington, D.C., earlier this month that testing an individual’s genome will be less than $100 and be done in under 15 minutes within 10 years. 

Another summit presenter, Paul Ford, director of the Center for Bioethics at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation noted that technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, are outpacing policy – and that puts a whole new degree of accountability squarely on the shoulders of hospitals, IT vendors, developers and others.

What the studies say about genomics

At the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, researchers found that while prostate cancer treatments aim to block the androgen receptor to stop cancer growth, many patients actually become resistant to androgen-specific therapies. Here’s the rub: That means that while undergoing treatment they end up developing a more resistant form of prostate cancer.

At Intermountain Healthcare, researchers found that chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, or CTEPH, a rare but deadly condition that can occur after initial treatment of a blood clot in the lung, may be an inherited genetic disease.

When clinicians treat a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot in the lungs, they use blood thinners to break up the clot and reopen the affected artery. However, in patients with CTEPH, the blood clots don’t dissolve, which leads to a rise in blood pressure and strain on the heart as it tries to pump blood through the still-blocked arteries in the lungs.

“Until now, no genetic link has been identified to indicate CTEPH is hereditary,” Mark Dodson, MD, medical director of the chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension program at Intermountain Medical Center, said in a statement. “Our research suggests that CTEPH may in fact be a genetic disease, with inherited genetic risk factors passed down from one generation to the next.”

Intermountain and University of Michigan, of course, are not the only health systems putting precision medicine to work. 

DNA sequencing becomes routine at Geisinger

Geisinger President and CEO David Feinberg, MD, announced on May 6 that the Pennsylvania–based healthcare system would be expanding its genetics program to include preventive care.

Geisinger is regarded as a leader in precision health. Its MyCode Community Health Initiative has enrolled more than 200,000 patient-participants.

More than 500 Geisinger MyCode participants have received clinical reports telling them they have a genomic variant that increases their risk of early cancers or heart disease, making it possible for their doctors to detect and treat these conditions before any clinical symptoms become present.

“Understanding the genome warning signals of every patient will be an essential part of wellness planning and health management,” Feinberg said.

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