New studies have been conducted that show evidence that genetics are only one pertinent piece of the puzzle that is human health. While genetic background can provide a wealth of knowledge on a person, their environment is equally as important when determining a healthy lifestyle to mitigate possible illnesses. Genetics and environmental stimuli go hand in hand when developing precision healthcare. Healthcare is not only physical health, but the policies that are involved in developing healthcare overall are also a key part. All pieces of the puzzle must fit in order to develop a truly efficient policy for healthcare. Genetic testing is the jump-off point for properly diagnosing and treating those who are concerned about developing hereditary diseases.
How Do Environmental Factors Tie Into Genetics?
The study that took place in Canada found that the environment is linked to gene expression. Gene expression can be considered the instructions that are coded into cells from genetics. Gene expression is an automatic process that allows cells to respond appropriately to their environment. The study collected evidence in how genes expressed themselves in response to certain stimuli like air pollution, and the walkability of the area the participants live in.
To limit the number of variables in the study, all participants were of French-Canadian descent and were picked from 3 distinct areas. The links that were found between the environment and its effect on gene expression were staggering. For example, despite their genetic background if somewhere were born in Quebec, but raised in Montreal they would exhibit similar gene expression to someone born and raised in Montreal. The environment has an unseen effect on how genes express themselves and the health of entire communities, despite differences and predispositions in genetic background.
This treasure trove of data opens up endless, and exciting possibilities for precision medicine. For the first time in history, we have a clear idea of how health and well-being can be treated thoroughly through personalized therapy and prevention tactics that are tailor-fitted to each individual based on their unique factors, like genetics and their environments.
Environment, Genetics and Precision Medicine
Precision medicine can allow for the prevention of illnesses. Instead of developing an illness or disease and seeking treatment, precision medicine can allow for the mitigation of such illnesses that are tied to genetic and environmental factors.
Numerous studies have been done on the mental effects of greenspaces. Improving access to green space, especially in urban environments has a strong positive effect on mental and physical health. Urban life is often rife with stress, pollution, and confined indoor spaces, which often aren’t in the best shape or conducive to relaxation with the bustling city life. Greenspaces are proven to reduce morbidity and mortality in urban residents. Greenspace is also linked to improved mental health, reduced risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and improved rates of pregnancy. All of the listed benefits of green space are also linked to genetics. The role that the environment plays in health is unparalleled. Environmental diseases are as important to mitigate as those that are discovered in genetics.
Researchers and healthcare professionals have to look at the big picture in precision medicine. When a group of individuals have the same illnesses or are suffering from similar health decreases, the environment is usually a factor along with the individuals’ genetic background. By working backward negative factors can be identified to develop personalized treatment plans while coming up with solutions to implement in other cases that are displaying similar symptoms. To treat one is to treat many, which is why precision policy is not to be overlooked.
Collaboration to Create Precision Policy
While precision medicine can treat the individual, precision policy could mitigate risks for entire populations. Chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer are complex and have many causes. Managing and preventing these diseases from developing is a layered approach that involves government, doctors, and researchers. Combining the data from studies like the one done in Canada, policy-makers and researchers can collaborate to tackle issues that affect the communities and work on issues of transit, affordable housing, healthy food availability, and encouraging physical activity in the community.
In the study, it was found that environmental factors played a larger role than genetics do in developing respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Policy-makers at local and federal levels need to team together to target investments that improve the quality of life in areas where people are more susceptible to developing respiratory illnesses. Schools and housing can be built away from highways or factories that produce toxins that can cause these illnesses to develop. Greenspaces can be improved or created to help filter the air naturally and promote healthier lifestyles.
Evidence-based approaches between policy-makers, researchers and government for creating precision policy are at the forefront of many communities. Partnerships between these vital players are what will push for healthier communities and can help to prevent illness and disease from becoming more widespread. Despite genetic predispositions that some have, the environment affects all who live there, healthier communities must be developed for people to thrive. Community programs are important to get all on board. Genetics don’t dictate the environment but alongside a failing environment it is setting individuals up for failure. Having scientific data to backup community plans is the future of precision policy.
Scientific Evidence Will Bring Change
Having the data to back up policy is the long-missing piece. Researchers having the ability to collect information – and understand it on a small and large scale – is the first step toward rethinking perspectives and policies that haven’t been working, or as effective as possible. Health research funding allows for the evidence and research to be generated to create new policy and precision medicine. Genetic testing on a large scale combined with research can spark a revolution of precision medicine for the individual and precision policy to advance healthcare for all.
All factors must be accounted for when testing genetics. Some diseases can be exacerbated or accelerated by the environment that individuals are predisposed to. Studying all areas that play into the health of people is the next step to looking further into genetic testing and how to develop a new foundation in healthcare.