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Don’s Desk: How Precision Medicine at Harrison goes Beyond Genetics

When Harrison Healthcare was created, it was fundamental that our team apply the very latest medical science to the care of our clients. I spent considerable time with some very bright scientists and physicians to understand what was happening in research laboratories around the world that could have a meaningful impact on the wellness of our clients in the immediate (and more distant) future.

What I found was an exciting array of tests and technologies that could really begin defining a person’s unique biological makeup so that risk assessments, preventive measures, and treatments could be more precise and effective. If you think I am talking about genetics, you are only partially right. Genetics is a very important aspect of Precision Medicine, but it is only one component.

At the moment of conception, you became “you,” genetically speaking. But in the very next instant, your environment began interacting with the DNA in your unique genome. From that point forward, the “biological” you began to be defined. As you grew, your interactions with your personal environment likely began to cause changes in you. Air quality, nutrition, exercise, family environment, social environment, medications, stress levels and many more factors began affecting your health by causing molecular changes in your cells. These factors didn’t change the DNA that defines your original genome, but they likely affected how your genes created other important molecules responsible for the proper functioning of cells.

The field of science that studies these important changes is called Epigenetics. Some scientists now believe that a person can inherit epigenetic traits and not just genetic traits. For example, a parent who had a very stressful life can pass on certain biological elements that cause stress vulnerability in their children, regardless of the healthy and calm environment they have created for them. The good news is that the impact of epigenetics can often be reversed.

More good news is that despite the complexities of the human body and its interaction with the environment, there is very solid science that allows us to personalize the prevention and management of disease in important ways. And we can mitigate the negative impact of both genetics and epigenetics significantly. At Harrison we focus on this solid science, implementing health strategies that are very practical, actionable, and supported by good scientific evidence.

One very good example is pharmacogenomics. Pharmacogenomics is a well-established science that links your response to a medication to your unique genetic profile. Certain genetic attributes can make a drug ineffective for you, change the dose that you require to make a drug effective, or present a risk of avoidable adverse drug reactions. In North America, approximately 25% of people experience an adverse drug reaction. Many of these can be avoided with a pharmacogenetic test. Equally important is that 90% of people who receive the test will benefit from the clinically actionable information it provides.

Pharmacogenetic testing at Harrison goes a step beyond genetic information. It incorporates detailed information from other lab tests and unique biomarkers to provide your physician with exceptional information that will likely improve the effectiveness of treatment markedly. We strongly recommend this test if you are on any medication related to the most common medical conditions.

There is much more to talk about regarding the emerging field of Precision Medicine. We are very fortunate to have Dr. Bernard Esquivel leading our team of medical advisors in this area.


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We would like to acknowledge with gratitude that we operate on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in Vancouver, and of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut’ina, the Mountain Nakoda Nations, and the Métis Nation (Region 3) in Calgary. With appreciation, we recognize that these lands have been stewarded by them since time immemorial.

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