Personalized Medicine

When genes determine the best health care

Even though doctors are already scrutinizing certain genes to find out, for example, the risk of developing breast cancer or cystic fibrosis, the future of health care is based on analyzing each patient's complete DNA. Welcome to the era of personalized medicine, where your genetic medical record will be king!

Since early times, medicine has focused on the individual. Even back in Antiquity, Hippocrates diagnosed his patients based on their four "humours"—blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile—and established the best treatment adapted for each one.

Since then, doctors have treated their patients as unique cases, basing their interventions on each one’s family history and lifestyle. So, if there is a history of breast cancer in your family, you will be monitored closely for that disease. On the other hand, if you are a heavy smoker, your doctor will more closely monitor the state of your lungs and respiratory tract.


Cross-examining the genes and genome

Thanks to advances in genetics (the study of genes), and then in genomics (the study of the genome), your doctor now has new tools to detect, for example, your risk of depression or cardiovascular disease.

The applications of personalized medicine, based on your DNA, are already very real. It is now possible to:

  • identify your tumour’s genomic profile to adapt treatments or predict the risk of recurrence;

  • measure your genetic predisposition to certain cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer;

  • carry out pharmacogenetic tests to determine the interaction between drugs and your genes, making it possible to know which treatment will be most effective for you;

  • use your fetus’ DNA to detect genetic abnormalities safely.


The end of the "same drug/same treatment for all” approach?

It will take many years, or even a few decades, before personalized medicine delivers on all its promises. However, with the progress made in genetics, in proteomics (the study of proteins), in metabolomics (the study of metabolites, small molecules produced by metabolism, such as glucose) and in epigenetics (the study of how the environment and lifestyle affect health), the applications of personalized medicine will become increasingly accessible to patients in clinics.


Quebec researchers are also very involved in the advancement of personalized health care. Look what they are working on!

Personalized medicine or precision medicine?

These two terms are often used synonymously, and that’s almost true! For specialists, however, there is a small distinction between them.

  • Precision medicine allows stratification at the molecular level.

  • Personalized medicine aims to identify specific treatments, and/or target prevention and treatment strategies based on an individual’s unique characteristics (sociocultural characteristics, for example).


When we talk about personalized medicine, we often talk about genetic testing. To learn more on this subject, click here.