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The journey to be more precise or to optimize our interventions for individual patients should not be a political issue, but one focused on learning and using data from a variety of sources to improve human health.

However, with a new president entering the White House in less than two months, there's been a lot of speculation that initiatives put into place by the current administration to advance science and medicine will not be supported by the new administration. One of those is to implement precision medicine, a quest to bring the right treatment to the right patient at the right time and at the right cost. The problem is, the goal of precision medicine isn't a political issue. It's about making sure that people get the health care they need.

Medicine has always aimed to provide the best treatment for patients, no matter the ailment. Consider the journey of a patient diagnosed with cancer. The patient sees the oncologist, the oncologist makes a diagnosis and then the oncologist starts the patient on a therapy that treats that specific type of cancer.

But what if the treatment does not work and the oncologist needs to try two or three different treatments before finding the one that saves the patient's life? Or what if the patient has severe side effects that greatly diminish his or her quality of life? And what if we now have the tools to more deeply understand an individual's cancer before administering therapy so the patient can have a better chance of responding to the chosen intervention?

This new approach, termed precision medicine, builds on the clinical evidence currently available for various interventions, and utilizes different types of information — genetic, environmental, lifestyle — to better tailor therapy. Precision medicine is not only a tool used in cancer treatments, but also is being used in many other areas of medical care, particularly those with a genetic component.

Although we are making great strides to implement precision medicine as the standard of care for disease treatment and prevention, many complexities remain. These complexities can be resolved over time through the research programs of the dedicated physicians and scientists who work tirelessly on these issues at the University of Utah and other academic medical centers.

For example, a team of researchers working at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah discovered a gene that, when not working properly, causes a specific form of colon cancer. Members of identified families can now undergo genetic testing to find out if they also have this broken gene and, if so, can be put on an aggressive screening and monitoring schedule that can prevent this cancer and save their lives. And now, through continued research, the team is working hard to create a new therapy customized to this specific cancer.

This is only one story. There are many more of these stories unfolding here in Utah and around the country. Ultimately, our vision is that most, if not all, genetic diseases are specifically diagnosed and treated through precision approaches.

This road will not be easy, but we won't stop trying to make this vision a reality because this approach saves lives. We invite you to join us on Dec. 1 and 2 to learn about precision medicine and to encourage our local leaders to fund precision medicine-related research.

The public is invited to learn about precision medicine, and how local and national leaders are tackling its complexities, at the Frontiers of Precision Medicine II conference at the University of Utah campus on Dec. 1 and 2.

Emily Coonrod, Ph.D., is associate director, Program in Personalized Health, University of Utah School of Medicine.