The past several decades of medical advances have focused almost entirely on genes. Decoding the genome was a big deal, there’s no question about that. But since that initial enthusiasm, more researchers are realizing that there are limits to the useful health information genes can relay. The problem is that an individual’s genes do not really change that much over a lifetime, but a person’s health usually changes a lot.
That’s why it’s necessary to look beyond the genome to the proteome, a far better reporter and predictor of health status. In the proteome, tens of thousands of proteins regulate a vast array of health-related functions and are constantly changing in response to a host of factors such as diet, exercise, medication and stress.
Proteins, in all their abundances and forms, are far more challenging to decrypt than genes, but major strides in technology are now enabling large-scale protein measurements that can identify patterns linked to an individual’s current and future disease risks; and it can be done from a single blood sample.
Until now, approved blood tests could measure one or, at most, a few different proteins at a time, such as the PSA test for prostate cancer and the CRP test for inflammation. But that’s just a small fraction of what proteins can tell us about a person’s health. Measuring thousands of proteins at a time, at their different concentration levels, can provide comprehensive knowledge of a patient’s current state of health, as well as reveal their trajectory toward developing disease. It could eliminate the need for the multiple tests currently used to assess a person’s health and disease risk. It would help evaluate treatment effectiveness, as well as inform a clearer understanding of the social, economic and behavioral factors impacting health. Measuring proteins at scale could radically change the practice of medicine from a reactive system that treats disease to a proactive system that prevents it.
Does this sound pie in the sky? The Japanese don’t think so. NEC Corporation, a leading Japanese information company, just launched a protein testing program based on large-scale protein measurement technology developed by U.S.-based company SomaLogic that will be available to the general Japanese population through a joint venture known as FonesLife.
“Japan recognizes the important role protein tests can play in preventing disease,” said Roy Smythe, MD, CEO of SomaLogic. “By identifying risks even before symptoms surface and providing tangible information about an individual’s risk of developing a disease and the effects of specific interventions, people are far more likely to be motivated to make preventive behavioral changes.”
While America lags Japan in its adoption of the large-scale protein tests, a number of physician practices in the U.S. are currently using them to assess their patients’ cardiovascular and metabolic risks.
Another critical role for proteomic technology has emerged in response to the pandemic. Just as protein measures can predict the disease path for common conditions, it is now being used to identify protein patterns signifying which patients with Covid-19 will be asymptomatic, have mild illness or will develop severe disease. It can also determine the effectiveness of certain treatments for individual patients.
“The big question with Covid-19 is which patients will become seriously sick and which patients will have few if any symptoms. Proteins can help us distinguish these patients at a very early stage so resources can be allocated to those who need it most,” said Dr. Smythe.
To learn more about large-scale protein measurement tests and their multiple applications, visit SomaLogic.com.