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July, 15th 2011
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Megill_Scott_2011by Scott Megill, Chief Information Officer, Coriell Institute for Medical Research

What if your medical record contained your genetic data that made it possible to flag previously undetected risk factors for illnesses you could take steps to prevent?

This is the promise of personalized medicine, an emerging field being pioneered by scientists and healthcare providers today. They believe that by understanding a person’s genomic information – along with their lifestyle behaviors and medical history – doctors can make better targeted, more cost-effective, and safer medical decisions.

The Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative® (CPMC®) research study is examining the usefulness of genomic information in health management and clinical decision-making. The study generates incredible amounts of data (1.5 GB per study participant) and creates new challenges in securely storing the information, subsequently releasing specific data points for clinical use, and ultimately, asking the right questions of that data.  Questions like: What changes in an individual’s genetic makeup reliably predict response to commonly prescribed drugs?  What changes, when correlated with clinical information, influence risk for disease?  And, which of these genetic changes should be routinely reflected in the electronic medical record for future clinical decisions?

It is known that multiple genetic variables influence how medicines are processed in the body. This information can help doctors avoid adverse drug effects, a leading cause of death among hospitalized patients.  In addition, most common complex diseases such as diabetes and cancer result from the interactions of genes, along with environment and diet as well. Take, for example, two people who each carry a gene that makes them susceptible for asthma.  One is an overweight Portland resident with good healthcare insurance coverage; the other lives in Los Angeles, smokes, and is uninsured.  The influence of their environments and their access to preventative care play important roles in their healthcare status.

Again, the data needed to make personalized medicine the standard model of care requires organizations in the industry to have the technology infrastructure in place to handle that massive amount of genetic data, while providing physicians and patients with access to the data via a simple mouse click.

The collaboration of scientists, physicians, information technology experts, patients, and others will significantly advance the field of personalized medicine, making genomic data an intrinsic part of medical care. This will create a new kind of medicine which sees patients as individuals and treats them uniquely, ultimately providing better healthcare.

Coriell Institute for Medical Research, the largest biobank of living human cells,  is using IBM technology to advance its research of human genetic disease and to more efficiently maintain its massive collection of biological resources. For more information, please visit http://www.coriell.org/personalized-medicine/overview.

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