Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Flu and Personalized Vaccines

As I sit here shivering, febrile and with myalgias, I had a thought. "Hey wait a second....I got the flu shot this year". Yes, it is true. For the first time EVER in my adult life I had received the flu vaccine. It's funny, becuase if you think about it, Flu Vaccine IS personalized medicine/Genomic Healthcare.

You may be saying, HUH? But it is the truth. The flu vaccine is a combination of two genes...well the protein products of those genes. Yes, much like humans there are several different types of the "flu" Influenza virus. They are classified according to these genes Hemagluttinin and Neuraminidase.

Hemagglutinin also called H and then subtyped by number, is useful for the little influenza to stick to the cells it wishes to invade.

Neuraminidase also called N and then subtyped by number is used for the "little bastard" (sorry, it is just the cytokines in my body speaking) to escape from infected cells and spread to other cells.

So when a vaccine is made they actually put components of these subtypes together with their "Best Estimate" of which viruses are likely to infect during a given year. Hence "Personalized Vaccine Medicine"

Well this year guess what. Our best guess was.....WRONG and now I sit here with the flu. This is not the only thing wrong in personalized medicine land. We have long known that sometimes we make a mistake in subtyping a woman's breast cancer for the Her-2 protein. Now we are finding a better way....through chickens. So how's that Chicken Soup for the Genomic Soul. Her-2 is used to direct therapy of a Her-2 Monoclonal antibody. For more, see the Personalized Medicine article.

The Sherpa Says: The best laid guess is as good as anybody's This is why we need to always view these technologies very carefully. Imagine getting a flu shot thinking you will have better protection, only to get the flu for the first time in years. Now imagine taking herceptin only to find out it doesn't work for you. We have to be careful and double check what we are given and what our results are. Too many people take printed reports AND clinicians at face value. While usually a good thing (Only if we understand the language) it can have some bad outcomes. Including my own illness ;)

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