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Your DNA and why it matters

by Damon Hostin

The concepts of genomics and DNA have permeated society’s collective consciousness. From recreational genetic trait testing to ancestry discovery. From the enduring popularity of Jurassic Park to the moral dubiousness of gene editing technologies—the subject has never been so mainstream.

Behind the headlines, genetics has been used in modern medicine for years, especially in the practice of precision medicine. Precision medicine ties the threads that make up a patient’s biology, with a focus on their genetic signature, to provide care that’s uniquely effective. The reason this approach can be so beneficial is because a patient’s genetic code is a strong determinant of their overall health – along with other determinants of health such as access to care, quality of care, and personal behaviors such as diet and attitude towards exercise.

Until recently, genetic data has been expensive to collect, and the general medical community hasn’t fully embraced it’s potential. But, as the volume of genetic research—and access to studies—has increased, understanding has expanded, and precision medicine has become increasingly more applicable and effective.

So, with such broad implications and opportunities, what does precision medicine mean to CommonSpirit Health and the communities we serve? Why are we investing in it and how is our approach different?

A good place to start is the benefit of using genetic data in the healthcare setting. To understand a patient’s genetic signature is to better understand the patient and their biology, which helps us make better decisions as care providers. It helps us honor the patient and their individuality, allowing for more precise clinical decisions. Simply stated, genetic data helps doctors be more precise with therapeutics and treatments so patients have better outcomes.

It also gives patients a more comprehensive view of their health, along with a better understanding of which treatment options will be most effective, earlier in their treatment journey. Delivering against the promise of precision medicine ladders back to the cornerstone of our organization—our commitment to care, access and wellness.

While we’ve always been invested in providing the best outcomes to patients, recent advances in technology and the understanding of how to apply the principles of precision medicine have given us even more reason to keep investing time and resources.

Pioneering research from the Human Genome Project and decreased costs associated with individual genome sequencing have helped to cultivate real-world clinical applications in precision care. This includes better identifying and treating many diseases including advanced cancer, inherited disease in neonates, rare disease, and cardiovascular disease. The end result is often a custom-tailored therapeutic regiment for these acute and complex conditions.

Perhaps even more impactful than treatment will be better prevention. We’re well on our way to using an improved understanding of genetic disease risks, to help manage the health of populations. This simultaneously engages communities and helps them develop preventative and proactive programs, ultimately leading to disease aversion, earlier detection, presentation stage shift, and better health outcomes. Things we can all be proud of.

Since 2016, when Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health partnered to create the Precision Medicine Alliance, utilizing precision medicine has been one of our top priorities. That partnership has allowed us to create a centralized hub and form partnerships between hospitals that are pursuing treatment options on the cutting-edge of health care.

We’ve also continued to cultivate relationships between Catholic Health Iniatives, Dignity Research Institutes and some of the most preeminent genetic research institutes in the United States. Baylor University and Creighton University are giving our clinicians ongoing access to breakthrough research, support and education. In addition, the support of legal, regulatory, data architecture and governance allows our program to reach our communities safely. This ecosystem of relationships has allowed us to bypass setting up our own sequencing labs, keeping the costs of advanced treatment down and further increasing access to these kinds of treatments.

Even with genetic research still in the early stages, precision medicine has done a lot of good in the world, and it will continue to play an important role in the future of health care. With a more holistic picture of each patient, we’ll not only learn more about how to treat diseases, but we’ll be able to do a better job of keeping people healthy before they get sick.

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