The objective of this article was to provide a framework for understanding the different definitions of the term “personalized medicine.” The term personalized medicine is used regularly but interpreted in different ways. This article approaches the term by starting with a broad view of clinical medicine, where three components can be distinguished: the questions (e.g., what is the diagnosis?), the methods used to answer them (e.g., a test), and the available actions (e.g., to give or not give a particular drug). Existing definitions of personalized medicine disagree about which questions, methods, and actions fall within its domain. Some define the term narrowly, referring to the use of a diagnostic test to predict drug response, thereby clarifying whether or not a patient will benefit from that drug. An example of this combination is the HER2/neu test to predict the effectiveness of trastuzumab in breast cancer. Many who adopt this definition associate the concept of personalized medicine with fields such as genetics, genomics, and other types of “-omics.” In contrast, others view personalized medicine as a concept that has always existed, because medicine has always considered the needs of the individual. One definition of personalized medicine that accommodates both interpretations is “the use of combined knowledge (genetic or otherwise) about a person to predict disease susceptibility, disease prognosis, or treatment response and thereby improve that person’s health.” This predictive ability can increase over time through innovations in various technologies, resulting in further improvements in health outcomes. Moreover, these developments can lead to a better understanding of the underlying causes of disease, which can eventually lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of individual patients. In that sense, a truly personalized form of medicine can also be seen as an ideal, a goal that will be achieved only after multiple advances in science. Although the term personalized medicine was rechristened somewhat recently, our ability to personalize medicine will continue to advance in unimaginable ways as we come to learn more about the heterogeneity that exists among individuals and diseases.
The faces of personalized medicine
A framework for understanding its meaning and scope