From Tampa to Milan, Medicine gets personal

Information technology, ‘big data’ underpin efforts to move personalized medicine to the mainstream.

Healthcare information technology, data mining and data analytics are driving rapid advances in personalized medicine across the country and around the world. The work being done today on this front is but a thin slice of what is yet to come, experts say, and many predict vast advances in the next four to five years.

The paradigm is changing, assert the clinicians, geneticists, researchers and technology makers working to make the shift from generic to genomic. Targeted, insightful, translational are some of the words they use to describe medicine of the future.

At Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla, researchers are synthesizing data from numerous clinical sources, a state-of-the-art biobank, and patient-reported information. The Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan, Italy is testing a new analytics platform with the end goal of helping physicians provide personalized care.

The work these two institutions are undertaking signal the vast changes to come for patient care – not only with the efforts seen on the wellness front, but also with how physicians treat sick patients. How they target disease will increasingly depend on the patient’s makeup – his or her DNA.

Perhaps that’s what inspired Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, a longtime advocate of health IT, to liken personalized medicine to makeup the other day when talking to a group of high school girls in North Carolina.

“If you’re going to church you probably wear one level of makeup, if you’re going out on a date, you may wear a different level of makeup,” Gingrich said. “If you were going to be in a play up here, you may wear a different level of makeup and it would be literally unique to you – to each one of you. We’re going to be able to have very personalized medicine, just the way we have personalized makeup.”

Mark Hulse, RN, VP of information services and CIO at Moffitt, leaves analogies aside to describe the personalized medicine work that is under way at the cancer center where researchers and clinicians are employing a health and research informatics platform developed by Oracle to capture and analyze clinical data.

“The personalized medicine piece comes in because of the molecular data,” Hulse says. “Typically the way it works in healthcare today, physicians go through a diagnostic process, and they treat the patient based on that particular diagnosis. Where the personalized medicine piece comes in is at the level of a particular person based on their genetic profile – molecular profile. We can actually target therapy very specifically.”