Personalized Therapies: Alternative Medicine, Conventional, or Integrative?

Alternative medicine proponents have frequently criticized conventional medicine for 'cookbook' techniques and ignoring the individual, thereby committing the twin sins of materialism and reductionism.

Materialism: limiting the view of the being to the body (ignoring the spirit or soul, and also ignoring the emotions).

Reductionism: reducing the complex phenomenon of illness to a diagnosable disease.

Also related: Cartesian dualism -- separating the mind and body and assuming there is no interface (and only treating the diseased body).

Now, the era of personalized medicine threatens this well-worn dichotomy.

Integrative medicine has been defined as the integration of conventional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (or holistic health). The pertinent legal question has been whether legal rules and standards of conventional medicine, alternative medicine, or both will apply to integrative health care practices.

In 2001, Ralph Snyderman, current Dean at Duke University School of Medicine and an integrative medicine champion, suggested that integrative medicine in the future will mean integrative genomics and DNA profiling with holistic health care. At the time that seemed very far off.

Now scientists have discovered the entire genetic code of breast and colon cancers, according to the BBC health report in Experts crack cancer 'gene codes.'

Ayurvedic medicine, traditional oriental medicine, Tibetan medicine (including the pulse diagnosis), and even energy healing to some extent, all diagnose and treat patients as individuals, and even though some generalizations can be drawn and theories applied, the reductionism of conventional medicine is said to be absent.

The "personalized integrative medicine" of the future suggests a different order. Genetics may or may not correlate with energetic readings or a visual "tongue diagnosis."

And in any event, diagnosing cancer is not within the legal scope of practice of an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, or an unlicensed practitioner (in states that have laws allowing non-licensed practice of complementary and alternative medicine). CAM therapists, like other non-MD health care providers, have a duty to refer when a condition is outside their skill, training and expertise.

So the actual interface of CAM and the new genomic medicine will be interesting.

As the BBC notes: "The genetic map shows that nearly 200 mutated genes, most previously unknown, help tumours emerge, grow and spread. The discovery could also lead to better ways to diagnose cancer in its early, most treatable stages, and personalised treatments, Science magazine reports....The mutated genes in breast and colon cancers were almost completely distinct, suggesting very different pathways for the development of each of these cancer types....Each individual tumour appeared to have a different genetic blueprint, which could explain why cancers can behave very differently from person to person, the scientists said."

Then again, if one accepts the notion of the human energy field, or at least of an 'energetic' configuration linking mind, emotions and spirit to physical health (as figures in some way in many of the CAM disciplines), then might there not be a correlation between an energetic blueprint, and a genetic one?

Energetic and genetic blueprints for your health: maybe the title of a 2030 book by an appropriately trained healer-doctor. Or maybe, as the skeptics would argue, science will trump mysticism after all.

On this note, I'd like to recommend a wonderful book in the science fiction and fantasy category: On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony. In this delightful imaginative adventure, Anthony conceptualizes a world in which science and magic are equal arts (sometimes magic trumps), and world citizens can use either to accomplish their aims. This is another upcoming theme of the Science and Soul series: the extent to which technological advances will appear to match those claimed by mystics and spiritual practitioners. And of course, the ethics of all this needs to be more clearly laid out--as does its legality.

But back to the new personalized medicine of science: "'No two patients are identical,' co-author Dr Victor Velculescu [of the quoted study] explained." Is this medical heresy, or the new medical orthodoxy?