Discussing the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

Well, he did it. The President of the United States mentioned diabetes in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night:

“I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine — one that delivers the right treatment at the right time. In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable. Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes — and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.”

I was very excited to hear this. And then, I almost immediately started researching “Precision Medicine Initiative” to see what the President was really talking about. Also, as a #WeAreNotWaiting fan, I was very interested in the last part of that statement, “to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.”

To be honest, I haven’t found out much about that last part, except that it kind of ties in with the Precision Medicine Initiative idea. What that means is the President is beginning an initiative to further study genome mapping, not only of our personal DNA, but of diseases like cancer and diabetes. The hope is, of course, that if we know more about the genome sequencing of diseases in our bodies, we will be better equipped to treat them effectively. Or possibly cure them.

How successful will the President’s efforts be? That depends on how much funding the initiative gets from congress. And right now, congress is more interested in cutting taxes on people earning 2,000 times what I earn in a year than they are in funding research. Unless it might help someone or some corporation to earn 2,000 times what I earn in a year, all for helping me to continue managing my diabetes as they, not I, see fit.

I’m also concerned about what will happen if we actually find out something meaningful through this initiative. Will that information be widely shared, in the most transparent way possible, so anyone who wants to act on that information can do so, rather than restricting the benefits of the research to those most able to capitalize on the results? That’s a long question, and I fear the answer to it may be just as complex.

Skepticism aside, it was nice to see our President mention diabetes in the State of the Union address. As someone living with diabetes for the past (almost) 24 years, it was gratifying to see the urgency of curing diabetes on the same plane as cancer, which always seems to get more notice.

I really don’t know if the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative will yield any positive results, how long it will take, or if it will get off the ground at all. But I do know this: The more we know, the better equipped we will be to either act on what can be found from mapping the genomes of our disease states; or, the better equipped we’ll be to say it’s still a crapshoot and anything can still happen with my diabetes.

This is how things happen with State of the Union speeches. The President might have a laudable idea, and then congress may support it (or not), and eventually, it may produce meaningful returns. That may sound defeatist in a way, but we have to start somewhere. The President could have left this out of his speech entirely. By including it in his address to congress, he was saying this is an idea whose time has come, and why shouldn’t we learn more?

Why shouldn’t we indeed, Mr. President. Let’s get started.

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  • Kate Cornell  On January 21, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for this, Stephen. I missed that part of the speech and you have summed it up nicely. While I don’t hold out much hope that this Congress will open up the coffers, I am also pleased that diabetes received such a front row acknowledgment. Here’s to more learning!


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