Precision Medicine


Units: 3

Description: According to the National Institutes of Health, precision medicine is "an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person." This approach allows doctors and researchers to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people. It is in contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach, in which disease treatment and prevention strategies are developed for the average person, with less consideration for the differences between individuals. Advances in precision medicine have already led to powerful new discoveries and several new treatments that are tailored to specific characteristics, such as a person’s genetic makeup. With advances in technology, it is becoming possible to use the most unique of characteristics - our genomes - to tailor treatments for individuals. Genomes are made up of a complete set of our DNA, including all of our genes, and are the instruction manual on how to build and maintain the 37 trillion cells in our bodies. Any two people share more than 99% of their DNA. It's the remaining less than 1% that makes us unique, and can affect the severity of a disease and effectiveness of treatments. Looking at these small differences can also help us understand the best way to treat patients for a range of diseases - from cancer and heart disease to depression. Technological change and the disruption it brings frequently outpaces the ability of society and policy makers to respond. The idea behind the series of Societal Consequences of Technological Change courses is to prepare students to understand and respond to the disruptions and consequences through critical thinking and construction of policy responses. In this course, students will be exposed to the underlying science and technology behind precision medicine, examples of how it is currently being used to address a wide variety of diseases, future scenarios of how this technology could advance, and the ethical and policy considerations inherent in any innovation.

Learning Outcomes: Preparing future policymakers for the hard choices in the service of people 1. Expose students to the underlying science and technologies of precision medicine, and examples of how they are current being used to improve health and prevent disease 2. Help students develop a policy making framework bounded by real world constraints such as resources, the pace of scientific and technological development, political will, and legal and privacy considerations 3. Energize students to develop recommendations under acute uncertainty and limited time frames 4. Challenge students to anticipate change, consider how the human condition might be affected, and develop the discipline to account for unintended and/or unexpected consequences 5. Address problem challenges by gathering expert input and asking critical and well-reasoned questions 6. Communicate recommendations to decision makers on complex issues in concise and defensible presentations Tentative presenters include representatives from the Pharmacogenomics initiative of the Pitt/UPMC Institute of Precision Medicine, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit sequencing project at the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and CMU’s Computational Biology department and Tepper School.