Science News

Personalised medicine – developing countries show the way

Sun, 21st Sep 2008

Part of the show Bugs, Bad Breath and Probiotics

Increasingly, doctors are moving towards personalised treatment for diseases including cancer and HIV infection.  This means carrying out genetic tests to work out whether a person is likely to benefit from a specific treatment or not.  The idea is that people are more likely to get a treatment that will work, in a timely way, as well as saving money by not giving medicines that are unlikely to be effective.

DNA fragmentYou may think that countries like the UK or US might be leading the way in personalised medicine, but judging by a special supplement published in the journal Nature Reviews Genetics this week, developing countries are actually forging ahead and leaving the west behind.

Mexico, India, Thailand and South Africa are all leading the way in personalised medicine, also known as genomic medicine, which could have important lessons for other countries in similar circumstances. The programmes of genomic medicine in these countries are aimed at improving national health, cutting medical costs, and bolstering the economy.

In Mexico, scientists have captured the genetic makeup of more than 1,200 people from different regions of the country. This is feeding into research to look at the links between genetic makeup and diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, infections, cancer, diabetes and heart problems.  Mexican experts believe that genomic medicine could cut diabetes-related healthcare costs by more than a third between 2010 and 2025.

In India, researchers found that the idea of personalised medicine stretches back more than 4,000 years, in the country’s Ayurvedic tradition.  Now a new genetic database contains information about 15,000 people from across the diversity of India.  According to some scientists, more than 10% of Northern India’s population don’t respond to up to 30 important drugs.  This is probably due to their genetic makeup, so understanding more about this could lead to better, more tailored treatments in the future.

Finally, in Thailand, researchers are looking for associations between genes and susceptibility to diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, while others are searching for links between genetic makeup and the likelihood of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. While in South Africa, researchers are studying genetic diversity using samples from several indigenous tribes in Southern Africa.

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