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Precision Medicine Has A Long Way to Go: A Need for Patient and Biospecimen Data

August 1, 2019

Doctors examining patient x rays

A human biospecimen is a potential font of biological data—data that when aggregated in enormous volumes and crunched by artificial intelligence drives the development of precision medicine. By analyzing genetic profiles of patients and tumors, and by matching mutations to targeted drugs, precision medicine is halting or reversing cancer…

…in a small fraction of cases.

As this deep dive by Newsweek explains, precision medicine is in its infancy and has provided hope and positive outcomes for patients with lung cancer and other conditions. “The cancer genes that drugs can target now number in three dozens, and researchers are hot on the trail of hundreds more,” writes author David H Freedman.

The task, however, remains daunting: “Our goal is to give 100 percent of patients a new therapy based on genomic testing,” oncologist Sameek Roychowdhury says in the article. “But today we don’t know how to provide a special treatment for the results of nine of 10 genomic tests we do.”


Challenges that Hold Precision Medicine Back include Biospecimen and Patient Data

Obstacles detailed by Newsweek include:

Complexity– It’s not just genes, but surrounding tissue and proteins that factor into cancer progress and response.

Data needs– It takes a lot of records for AI to detect patterns and generate insights with patient and specimen data, especially for disease profiles that may affect only a few thousand people.

Physician expertise– No clinician can keep up with the latest developments in precision medicine for all cancers.

Resources– The vast majority of U.S. cancer patients are treated at community hospitals, where the percentage of patients on newer precision drugs is typically “nearly zero.”

Insurance reimbursement– Genetic testing and precision treatments are often not covered.


What’s Working

On the positive side, the article says, some hospitals are committing to genetically testing all their cancer patients; deep learning is advancing steadily; AI is learning to recognize cancer on slides of tissue samples and detect anomalies in other images, such as X-rays and MRIs; and researchers are using computers to represent control groups to speed up clinical trials.

Knowing that specimens are the beginning of the precision medicine development chain, and that each specimen contains a wealth of important patient, genetic and “real world” data, we are deeply committed to making biofluids, tissue and hematologic cell products more readily available to the researchers who need them.

Precision medicine will be long and laborious endeavor. Getting the data shouldn’t be.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.

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