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Art Caplan: A New Medical Revolution May Change The Way We Look At Diseases

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A model of DNA.
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Forget everything you know about classifying a disease. A medical revolution is coming that will change how we perceive and treat disease, according to medical ethicist Art Caplan. 

In a recent LeapsMag article, Caplan, the director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, describes how in the near future doctors may classify and treat disease based off genetics, not physiological symptoms.

“So people sort of think ‘I know what a disease is, it's when some virus attacks me and I get the flu.’ That’s true to a degree, but what’s happening is … with this genetics revolution sweeping through medicine, identifying underlying deep causes of disease at the molecular level, what you start to see is diseases that you never thought were related have a common genetic or biochemical pathway,” Caplan told Boston Public Radio Tuesday. 

Caplan used ovarian and breast cancers to exemplify this point. Both of these diseases are labeled separately but are caused by some of the same genetic mutations. In the future, illnesses that share genetic mutations like breast and ovarian cancer could be considered the same disease. This perception of disease could also change the way the medical community looks at treatment.

“Doctors will treat disease as genetic mutations,” Caplan said. “I think even though we are not seeing it, this is one of the biggest revolutions that’s going to happen in the 21st century. It is calibrating what we think of as diseases.”

Medical ethicist Art Caplan is head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and the co-host of the Everyday Ethics podcast. To listen to his entire interview, click the audio player above.

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