No longer one-size-fits-all

No longer one-size-fits-all

Personalisation and gene-level healthcare is becoming a mantra for healthy living of today and this trend is certainly here to stay

When it comes to healthcare of today, it seems taking tablets of over-the-counter vitamins or drinking eight glasses of water a day is no longer adequate. To live healthily in this 21st century, doctors and the health conscious alike have put more focus on personalisation which will definitely be here to stay.

Spurred by the success of the Human Genome Project, a scientific approach designed to read human DNA sequence, gene-level healthcare — perhaps the clearest example of medical personalisation — has become increasingly popular.

The most recent and most controversial case is none other than the twin girls Lulu and Nana, the world’s first gene-edited babies, who became under the global spotlight late last year.

Through the technique called Crispr, which is an editing process to alter a gene in human embryos that is then implanted back in the womb of a woman, Lulu and Nana has the DNA that is resistant to HIV infection, meaning they would have no chance to be infected with the virus. The person responsible for such a gene-editing project was Chinese scientist He Jiankui.

Of course, creating gene-editing babies triggered much public outcry later on, with people saying the technique was not ethically right. Some fear that such a cutting-edge method would be a stepping stone for creating humans with desired intelligence, beauty and ability.

In Thailand, however, gene-level healthcare doesn’t go that far, at least not yet, but we cannot deny that it is winning more attention from people who care about their future health. Renowned geneticist and expert in molecular medicine Asst Prof Dr Objoon Trachoo said genetic science as currently being practised in the country mainly covers only three areas at this point: diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

“Diagnosis is when a patient falls sick with a disease of an unknown cause and we try to figure out the contributing factor behind the sickness,” said Dr Objoon in an earlier interview with the Bangkok Post.

“We found out that many diseases have genetics to blame such as seizure, visual impairment, hearing disability, heart diseases and cancer. When we can pinpoint that their illnesses are genetic, we can help take better care of the patients to prevent the diseases from deteriorating,” he explained.

In terms of treatments, the best example is the gene therapy technique as practised by specialists at Ramathibodi Hospital to help patients suffering thalassaemia.

During the past several years, gene-level medical prevention has increasingly been implemented in Thailand mostly through a method called carrier screening. Simply put, it means one gets himself genetically tested to see if he is a carrier of any hereditary diseases. In most cases, carrier screening is recommended for couples who are planning to have kids so that they can prevent bad, unhealthy genes to be passed onto their babies.

In June this year, an annual conference at the American Society for Nutrition revealed for the first time the result of a new study called Predict which is the world’s largest and most comprehensive analysis of individual responses to food. Although it turned out that, after studying 1,000 subjects, genes play a limited role in diets, scientists did believe that they were closer to “being able to provide guidance for each person for what their ideal diet should be”. 

With medical scientists and researchers not just in Thailand and around the world putting more efforts into studying and practising individualised healthcare, it is without a doubt a big thing when it comes to healthy living.

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