By: Lenis C.
Personalized medicine is an exciting catch phrase that I've heard a lot about lately. There was even a Personalized Medicine World Conference held in Mountain View, CA this year (http://www.birdf.com/Index.asp?CategoryID=87&ArticleID=38). The premise for personalized medicine—for example, the idea that some people respond to particular medicines and other people do not—is indeed intriguing. I value the desire of scientists to tailor treatments to patients and to find the right fit of therapy for those patients.
As a nutrition student, I am intrigued by the possibilities of personalized medicine as applied to a nutritional context. Nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics are burgeoning fields, and they offer a new perspective of the interaction between diet and genotype, as well as the impact of nutrients on gene expression (Simopoulos and Milner 2010). As one example, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in which the DNA of many individuals are scanned to find links between genetics and disease (HHS, NHGRI 2010) have yielded some new genetic findings relating to Crohn's disease (see, for instance, Franke et al. 2010). As another example, a lot of new knowledge on obesity has been generated by looking at gene regulation and processes such as fat metabolism, fat cell development, and heat production (Marti et al. 2010).
The specificity of certain nutritional treatments or diets to particular populations has been documented. For instance, Schaefer et al. (1997) found a difference in the degree to which LDL levels were lowered in response to a National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Step 2 diet; this difference was found in people with different apolipoprotein (apo E) phenotypes (Schaefer et al. 1997). I can only imagine that the more we learn, the more we will be able to figure out what diets or nutritional treatments work best for certain people by consulting their genetic profile. We already know that the treatment of conditions like diabetes should consider individuals' preferences and cultural contexts; personalized nutrition, with a solid genetics and genomics basis, could truly extend this treatment beyond what is currently known and available, making this a promising new frontier.
Franke A, McGovern DPB, Barrett JC, Wang K, Radford-Smith GL, et al. Genome-wide meta-analysis increases to 71 the number of confirmed Crohn's disease susceptibility loci. Nature genetics 2010;42(12):1118-26.
Marti A, Goyenechea E, Martinez JA . Nutrigenetics: a tool to provide personalized nutritional therapy to the obese. In: Simopoulos AP, Milner JA, eds. Personalized nutrition. World Rev Nutr Diet. Basel: Karger, 2010:21-33.
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). Genome-wide association studies website. 2010. http://www.genome.gov/20019523 (accessed April 3, 2011).