Jeff Herman
Mar 27, 2012

One size doesn't fit all: A researcher watches his diabetes develop with a personal 'Omics' profile

Six insulin molecules assembled in a hexamer, how insulin is stored in the body.'One size fits all' is not a concept I ever found to be particularly true. Most hats, that are supposed to fit everyone, for example, rarely fit me. In our likes, our dislikes, our body shapes and our lifestyle choices, we are simply too different for one thing to work perfectly for everyone.  Similarly it would be nice if a magic bullet was discovered that could not only cure a specific type of disease such as cancer or diabetes but also work as effectively for all patients; however, after decades of biomedical research, it has become quite clear that such a singular cure likely does not exist.  Individualized healthcare is key.

DNA is the blueprint of life and once the human genome was sequenced, it was thought that our understanding of the underlying causes of disease would quickly follow.  Genomics held the answer, and in the not-so-distant future, with the use of microarrays, a tool to measure changes in gene expression, we would quickly create individualized dosing regimens for all patients.  But humans are complex and are more than a simple sum of our DNA.  Epigenetic regulation, mRNA transcript profiles, protein expression, energy and metabolite levels, all play a complex interweaving role in our body.  Until we can truly understand the intricate relationship of these processes and how their deregulation can lead to the onset and progression of disease, individualized healthcare and truly effective disease treatment, will remain a pipe dream.

Michael SnyderHowever, thanks to Michael Snyder, a researcher at Stanford University, and his willingness to bear his soul to the world, or at the least his genomic, proteomic, transcriptomic and metabolomic profile (which I feel is more intimate than finding yourself going to school without any clothes on), we have taken a big step toward proving that individualized healthcare is not simply a wild fancy. For over two years, Snyder had his lab studied everything from his DNA and RNA, to protein expression and metabolites levels in his blood.  Within that two years, they found that Snyder was predisposed to type 2 diabetes, and at the molecular level, they watched as the initial stages of the disease developed.  With this advanced warning, Snyder was able to make dietary and other lifestyle changes much earlier than most patients, who may have gone undiagnosed for years, avoiding unwanted tissue damage.

Most of us try or at least try to try, to have an annual physical to make sure we are healthy.  We get our BMI calculated, the doctor listens to our heart, takes our blood pressure, reads our blood sugar levels and maybe our cholesterol as well. Snyder’s research may take the annual physical to a whole other level.  A physical on steroids, you might say, or if you would like to use slightly more scientific terms, a 'personalized Omics profile' or iPOP.  An iPOP, while in its infancy, has incredible promise for individualized healthcare.  Once this research is perfected and once it is made cost effective for widespread use, we may find that we too will get a regular high-tech analysis that will provide in-depth and early detection of disease, not to mention a great subset of data that could potentially lead to the discovery of novel effective drug targets.

Related Articles: First-ever integrative 'Omics' profile lets Stanford scientist discover, track his diabetes onset