What if a medical practitioner told you it was possible to look into the future of your health? To predict what illnesses you might get and what medications could be helpful or harmful to you? While it might sound fantastical, companies around Asheville are starting to dive into exactly that: Precision or “personalized” medicine (also known as targeted medicine) is beginning to gain traction.
“I don’t want to live to be 200, but I would certainly love to be incredibly healthy until I am at least in my late 90s,” says Sandra Grace, a patient at Apeiron Medical in Asheville. She attributes her success with weight loss, hormonal balancing and relief from depression to the program run by Dr. Daniel Stickler, co-founder and chief medical officer, and Mickra Hamilton, co-founder and chief executive officer.
Hamilton says Apeiron Medical offers precision medicine to optimize human potential by taking into account each individual’s physiology, emotional makeup, genetics and genomics (the study of an organism’s genes to find variations that affect health, disease or drug response). Once all that is analyzed, Hamilton and her team prescribe evidence-based therapies that facilitate longevity and peak performance.
“It’s kind of like somebody out there actually knows my life blueprint,” Grace says. “They are working with your whole life blueprint, DNA, your genetics and genomics and how it balances.”
Hamilton and Stickler assess over 300 genetic base pairs that vary among individuals to give guidance to the client. These genetic variations help them in guiding individuals to their best dietary and supplementation pattern. Athletic gene variations can even be used to optimize athletic performance or exercise response by providing individual information on heart-lung capacity, metabolic capacity from the mitochondrial level, propensity for muscle fatigue and ability to recover from intense workouts.
“We don’t let our clients focus on their disease because that becomes their identity and that becomes part of psyche,” says Hamilton, a colonel in the Air Force and a human performance expert who helps people with stress reduction, diet and exercise. Hamilton was on the team that authored the Human Performance Concept of Operations for the Air Force.*
Although located in Asheville, Apeiron also works with clients around the world, both virtually and in conferences. In Asheville, however, clients have access to a variety of equipment, including a sound healing chamber, a Dexiscan (which scans a person’s body for fat, bone and muscle density), a brain mapping cap and exercise equipment. Hamilton and Stickler are also developing their investment platform so they can open a research center in Fairview — a long-term goal that would enable people to fly in for treatment and stay in villas that they are also planning to build. They already have the blueprint from an architect, Hamilton notes.
While Apeiron prefers to focus on creating lifestyles based on genetic blueprints, Lynn Dressler, director of personalized medicine and pharmacogenomics at Mission Health, focuses more on what medications might cause harm, based on a person’s genetics. “Personalized medicine is a broad term, but mostly it is how someone’s genetic makeup will respond to a drug, like side effects or if a drug is effective for a condition,” she says. In accordance with Mission Health’s media policy, the interview with Dressler was conducted in the presence of a Mission communications staffer, in this case Nancy Lindell, communications consultant in media relations. While the field of personalized medicine started in cancer research, Dressler explains, it now encompasses many different ailments as well as the side effects of pharmaceuticals. The idea behind personalized medicine, she adds, is to minimize side effects and maximize drug benefits for the individual.
Mission is now using genomics for prevention as well as treatment. “Drug responses with bad side effects cost upward of $ 7 (million) to $10 million a year to treat, and the ability to try to prevent some of those drug responses is huge, and the potential to know up front could save that patient time, money and minimize misery,” Dressler says.
This year, the Personalized Medicine Program was awarded a Presidential Grant of $45,000 from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to help support a pilot research study evaluating the feasibility of providing personalized medical testing in the primary care setting. Dressler is now connecting with primary care practices in Western North Carolina to study what the barriers are to providing personalized medical tests to their patients. Primary care providers have an opportunity to get involved, she notes, and the cost is covered, including education. Dressler’s team will consult with physicians and patients on a one-to-one basis. “We want to look for a panel of markers to help guide the physician or patient,” Dressler says.
While personalized medicine programs are typically found throughout the U.S., mainly in universities and research centers, Dressler says it is unique that a health system in WNC is in a designated rural area where many are underserved.
Dressler hopes to have “personalized medicine” become a household term and wants to generate awareness, which she does by offering lectures to the public. “We have done so well in cancer [for genetic testing], so how can we apply that for mental health, diabetes, cardiovascular or chronic disease?” she asks. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to understand genetics for bipolar and to identify susceptibility to chronic disease to prevent or minimize severity?” She adds that genetic testing will soon help people choose the foods in the grocery store that are most healthful for them.
But genetics is not the only thing that impacts us, Dressler reminds us. Lifestyle, exercise and other factors are still part of the complex situation of care, disease and drug response, she says. “Genomics are one piece of the puzzle that helps us to understand why we are who we are, but there are many other factors that in the future, like environmental factors, will be part of it. This is one part of understanding disease and health, and has to be taken with all the other pieces of information we have. It is not 100 percent accurate; nothing is. The more we know, the more we realize we don’t know, but it lets us use the information we have in a responsible way.”
Kelly Riedesel, a Mission patient who has received personalized medicine, offers a testimonial curated by Mission’s media relations department: “I think that on top of being great for patients, it can really save a lot of money by fewer adverse drug events, fewer diagnostic tests, fewer wrongful death suits, etc. I think it also draws patients much more into taking responsibility for their own health instead of relying solely on our fragmented system of individual doctors that don’t communicate with each other much. It gives patients medical evidence they can take from doctor to doctor about what works for them and what doesn’t.”
*Hamilton notes that her views are her own and do not represent the U.S. Air Force.
The Apeiron Center for Human Potential Corporation
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