New technologies have given way to the introduction of precision medicine as part of treatment, in large part because of cancer care. The remarkable advances in cancer treatment have been the basis for personalized care and precision medicine research.

Dr. Fred Meyers

Fred Meyers is director of the Center for Precision Medicine and Data Sciences. He’s cared for thousands of patients over his 40 years at UC Davis Health. Many patients at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer have benefitted from precision medicine. It allows physicians to analyze the genes in a cancer and prescribe treatments that target the cancer. Therefore, treatment is more aimed and has less of an impact on other parts of the body.

“Our goal is to improve this targeting even more to reduce side effects and see improvements in survival in lung cancer, skin cancer, kidney cancer and more,” Meyers said. “In addition, we now have better ideas about who is at greatest risk of developing cancer. Because of this, we can be more intensive in those patients with screening or prevention.”

Precision medicine is a wholesome approach for treatment

“Biologically, while our genetic background is very similar, there are both inherited differences and environmental exposures that alter our genes,” Meyers said. “These changes may increase the risk of becoming ill or having more life-threatening forms of disease. Precision medicine allows us to predict response to treatment based on each patient’s risk level.”

Precision medicine considers the interactions between genetics and many environmental factors, such as poverty levels, access to education and adverse childhood experiences. These interactions are integrated into a complete understanding of wellness and health.

“The complete view is the real promise of precision medicine,” Meyers said. “By providing information to people – information that’s not just medical but also environmental and behavioral – they will be prepared to take charge of their own health.”

Precision medicine model

Precision nutrition is medicine, too

Precision medicine can give patients useful information on ways to change their lifestyle. Meyers gives the example of nutrition and how most people strive to “eat right.” But many people don’t know what that means or how to do it effectively.

“We know that eating with our family is important to many of us for that sense of being together and socialization,” Meyers said. “You don’t have to give up your favorite weekday family meal. Instead, you can work with your health care provider to develop a personalized diet. The diet can be culturally sensitive and help with challenging weight loss or salt restriction. This can encourage us to stay healthy or get healthy after a health problem is treated.”

Going forward, UC Davis Health’s Center for Precision Medicine and Data Sciences looks to expand the precision nutrition program. This will be done by speeding up nutrition research and uncovering the role nutrition plays in improving public health and reducing disease.

Precision medicine bridges gaps in health disparities

Meyers is also pleased to be working with community leaders in California’s Central Valley to prioritize access for underserved populations who often don’t receive timely care.

“I feel heartened that new teams using new tools and data sources have been able to make such rapid progress to improve health care and population health. But these are merely initial steps,” Meyers said. “Until we can eliminate the profound health disparities that affect those we work for and with, we will not realize the full potential of precision medicine. That’s why I feel a continued sense of urgency and passion to train the next generation of investigators who will lead us to a new and healthier society.”