By Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D.
I admit it, I'm a little jealous of people that are becoming doctors now. Yes, the government regulations are creating a heavy burden, and practicing medicine now is a lot tougher than when I became a physician. All of those problems overshadow a simple fact, though: This next generation of doctors will be able to alleviate suffering and cure diseases in ways never imagined.
Ten years ago, in 2003, the Human Genome Project was completed. Sequencing the first human genome took 13 years and cost nearly $4 billion to complete. Today, just 10 years later, we can complete that same task in one to two days for about $4,000. Both the time and cost are continuing to shrink. Soon, you'll be able to sequence a person's DNA for $1,000 and have the results that same day.
While the speed with which we are able to sequence genes, thanks for technology, is amazing, it is not the truly transformative part of this breakthrough. The true transformation comes with how these sequences are starting to change the way that doctors treat patients and the extraordinary therapies that could result.
How will these genomic advancements change the future of patient care?
Imagine a scenario in which you would go to the doctor for a simple test that would tell the doctor not only what is wrong with you but would allow them to create a treatment plan just for you. I'm not talking about a personalized course of medicine, but a personalized medication created and synthesized specifically for your genetic code to cure a particular disease. No mass-produced drugs, no empiric treatments.
It could even be possible for a doctor to tell which diseases you are predisposed to have and then use genetic alteration to treat those diseases before they ever become clinically evident.
Sounds like something out a science fiction movie, doesn't it? All of that could be a real possibility in the not-so-distant future.
Today, doctors are using genomic sequencing to find out the exact makeup of tumor cells to determine which treatments will work best. These tests allow doctors to determine which cancer treatments will work best against the genetic makeup of a specific tumor and create a personalized drug regiment for each patient. The best chance of beating cancer lies in this approach.
Doctors can also now perform tests to determine the likelihood that their cancer patients will develop a new cancer, so they can preventatively treat any possible relapses. Genomic technology is already saving and improving lives of patients with leukemia, breast cancer, HIV and heart disease.
This is just the start of a new golden age in medicine.
In the past 10 years, genetics and the genomic industry have had a $1 trillion impact on our economy, and their impact grows every year. Genetic testing represents an exciting counter argument to the pervasive view that the United States is losing its competitive edge in the global economy. America is leading the world in finding new ways to improve care, to grow new industry and to give a struggling economy a needed boost.
One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is whether I would recommend that someone become a doctor today. With all the negative stories you hear about healthcare, is it worth the time, commitment and government over-regulation that comes with the job? My answer is an overwhelming yes. We are just beginning to see incredible advancements in care and treatment of patients. And to be able to help people in that profound a way is worth all the headaches.