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Personal Touch

Personalized medicine is an "antidote to what is too often a mass approach to medicine," writes Mary Brophy Marcus at Al Jazeera America. Centers like the Mayo Clinic are turning to genetic information to better understand and treat patients whose type of disease is unknown or who have advanced cancer, she adds.

For example, whole-exome sequencing helped put a name to the kidney disease affecting Denis Keegan as well as informed his therapy and diet. Additionally, as Keegan and his wife are planning a family, they have also spoken to a genetic counselor about the risk of passing the disease on.

Alternatively, Brophy Marcus writes, genomic approaches can help tailor cancer patients' treatment. A study at Mayo is examining how to do just that using mouse avatars — mice that are injected with patients' tumors — to determine the best treatment for their disease.

However, such individualized medicine isn't necessarily cheap. Duke University's David Goldstein estimates that sequencing the exomes of a parent-child trio at his institute costs about $3,000; Stan Nelson at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine says that sequencing a parent and child there runs about $6,000; and the Mayo, which sends its samples to Baylor College of Medicine, says the total cost of its genetic tests is about $21,000.

"We are now moving from the promise of genomics to the practice of genomics,'' Gianrico Farrugia, director of the Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine, says.