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Devil's Deal?

While personalized medicine may be able to tailor treatments to patients' specific maladies, Eleonore Pauwels and Jim Dratwa from the Woodrow Wilson International Center wonder whether it is a sort of Faustian bargain. Many of the people who contribute their DNA toward the development of personalized medicine may not be able to reap its benefits, they write at the Scientific American Guest Blog.

As an example, they point to something that occurred in Kannapolis, North Carolina. After the town's textile mill closed, a biotech complex replaced it. Town residents were soon offered a $10 WalMart card in exchange for their DNA, an offer that many took. But, as Pauwels and Dratwa note, many of the residents lack "the resources to pay for the expensive treatments and cutting-edge medicine that could come from their genetic material."

Going forward, Pauwels and Dratwa argue that this disparity between who contributes and who benefits should be addressed. They note, though, that it comes into conflict with the need for large amounts of data and the expense of bringing drugs to market.

"The success of personalized medicine will depend on our capacity to empower patients by lowering the economic and financial barriers to benefiting from the best course for prevention or care," they say.