Hippocrates, the “Father of Western Medicine,” is arguably one of the most iconic physicians in history. Born in 460 BC, his influence has been long-lasting and far-reaching; in fact, medical students today recite the “Hippocratic Oath” to ensure that as future physicians, they understand the significance and seriousness of taking on the role of being a doctor. Hippocrates stressed the importance of physicians understanding their patients on a personal level; he once stated, “The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future — must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.”
“The physician must be able to tell the antecedents”
Centuries ago—decades ago, in fact—physicians didn’t have much information on patients that came to them besides asking simple questions about family history. A typical conversation would involve the doctor asking the patient if his or her family had a “history of high blood pressure/diabetes/cancer/etc.” The patient would try to answer to the best of their ability, often times stumbling through their answers; “I think my grandfather had diabetes?” or “My mother once told me that her mother, or was it her father, had heart problems.”
“…know the present…”
The physician would then, after a series of tests, try to determine which course of action to take—medications, treatments, suggestions, advice—largely based on what they can empirically determine from their studies and subjectively determine from their patient’s uncertain family history. But the medical community has gotten better at this as technology has advanced. In 1747, James Lind discovered that citrus fruits prevent scurvy; in 1816, Rene Laennec invented the stethoscope; in 1921, Frederick Banting discovered insulin for the treatment of diabetes; in 1952, Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine; in 1979, scientists discovered created the first antiviral drugs; and finally, in 2000, The Human Genome Project was completed.
“….and foretell the future”
The Human Genome Project cost the US government and its taxpayers roughly $2.7 billion in order to sequence the human genome to identify and map all of the genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional standpoint. Barely 15 years later, this price has plummeted to merely $2000, where lower or higher prices can get you respectively less or more thorough results. With advancements in sequencing technology and an increasing number of people getting their genomes sequenced, our knowledge on the interactions between genes and diseases is growing exponentially. Most notably, a gene mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene was shown to increase chances of breast or ovarian cancer. Women with harmful mutations in either BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a risk of breast cancer that is about five times the normal risk, and a risk of ovarian cancer that is about ten to thirty times normal. These gene-disease associations have been increasing since the advent of genomic sequencing. Recently, scientists have found a gene that might be associated with schizophrenia as well as genes that might be linked to intelligence. Beyond that, however, we are also able to understand the interaction between a drug therapy and the patient through pharmacogenomics. In line with Hippocrates’ quote, physicians are now able to “to do good or to do no harm” to diseases in patients since the evolution of genomic sequencing.
Hippocrates, in 400 BC, could not have even dreamt of this progress in medicine but his approach in medicine has been timeless and universal. The role of the physician is to understand the patient. With genomic sequencing, we are getting closer and closer to this goal where physicians will be able to treat their patients for diseases years before symptoms appear and become problematic; where physicians will be able to predict the way their patient’s body interacts with a drug-therapy; where physicians will be able to optimize and enhance the lifestyle of their patient. With genomic sequencing becoming a part of everyday life, physicians will be able to tailor treatments that are specific to their patients on a much more personalized level, just as Hippocrates longed for over 2000 years ago.
At New Amsterdam Genomics, we want the patients to get to know themselves better. By using whole exome sequencing (WES), we are able to provide patients with their genetic information at a minimal price compared to other companies. Our goal is to personalize and optimize medicine, preparing everyone for the future of medicine.
Visit NAGenomics.com for more information on the benefits of genomic sequencing and understanding the importance of precision medicine in the evolving landscape of medicine.