Precision Medicine encompasses many different technologies. For illustrative purposes I’ve included only a handful in the taxonomy:
DNA Sequencing enables the analysis of the human genome to identify specific markers that can indicate a proclivity for a particular disease or an incompatibility with certain drugs.
Genetic Engineering is used to produce improved or novel organisms, e.g., in gene therapy where defective genes are replaced with effective ones.
3D Bioprinting allows the fabrication of custom tissues or organs by stacking layers and layers of living cells. While still in its infancy, and currently mostly used for drug research, bioprinting holds great promise for the custom creation of organs, bones, or other tissue uniquely fitted for a patient.
Adoptive Cell Transfer (ACT) is the transfer of cells originating either from the patient or from another person and thus highly customized to the patient’s unique condition. A rapidly growing field within ACT is the transfer of a patient’s genetically modified cells (T cells) to strengthen a patient’s immune system to help combat cancer — a highly personalized and precise treatment, albeit still in the experimental stages.
Last but not least, Health Data Analytics is technology that differs quite a bit from the others mentioned here (think Sesame Street’s “one of these things is not like the other”), since it also finds its application in other areas, such as population health management, and as such could be considered a technology listed under Health IT. For Precision Medicine, Health Data Analytics makes de-identified data from healthcare operations available for research, cross-referenced with patients’ genetic profiles to find or to validate novel treatments. One recently announced collaboration between a university and a biopharmaceutical company, for example, will look at the correlation between “abnormal anatomical variations of brain structure to the underlying genetic markers of the diseases”.
The term’s predecessor — and a subset of Precision Medicine — is Personalized Medicine. As the name implies, Personalized Medicine focuses on the delivery of care tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of a particular, singular patient. Precision Medicine shares this ambition of individualized care, but aims to find solutions for a broader subset of the population that shares diseases and common traits. This branch of medicine is concerned with finding treatments that more precisely target the causes of certain disease, for example by applying knowledge about the effect of certain genes or a better understanding of the inner workings of cancer cells. With precision medicine a treatment can still apply to tens of thousands of patients, but care can be delivered more selectively, leading to better outcomes, fewer side effects, and ultimately reduced cost.
A Digital Health Taxonomy
Digital Health matters to us all of us since whether we like it or not, we all will come into contact with the healthcare system in one way or the other. And digital health solutions can help us patients and our providers a great deal to help us heal.
The field of Digital Health has shaped healthcare for the past 30 years and will continue to do so at an ever-increasing pace. Just 10 years ago digital health domains such as “Personal Wellness” or “Precision Medicine” didn’t even exist, except in the minds of a few researchers and visionary entrepreneurs.
And I’m sure that when I update this taxonomy in 2025, I’ll have to make room for another branch or two.