In January 2015, President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, a plan to support research into treatment and prevention strategies that take differences between people – especially genetics – into account.
However, precision medicine can’t just look gene-deep. Where we live – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the environments around us – has a huge impact on our health and even on our DNA.
As a professor of environmental health sciences, epidemiology and medicine and codirector of the Joint Geisinger-JHSPH Environmental Health Institute (EHI), I have been working with electronic health record data to link such environmental issues as animal feeding operations, agricultural practices, unconventional natural gas development and the built environment to such outcomes as drug-resistant infections, diabetes and asthma control, pregnancy outcomes and obesity. Working with Dr Annemarie Hirsch, an epidemiologist in the EHI, we are seeking to discover how to translate these findings into the delivery of more precise clinical care.
Understanding more how our environment and social conditions shape our health could lead to better treatments and better preventive care. But two problems stand in our way before we can do this. The first is that these data aren’t being collected. And if we were to start collecting them, health care providers wouldn’t know how to use them.