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Proteomics Is Reshaping Health Care

Significant changes in the way we diagnose and treat diseases are on the horizon.


Significant changes in the way we diagnose and treat diseases are on the horizon. Currently, health care providers have tests for strep throat, flu and human immunodeficiency virus that look for the presence of a single protein. Another example is the prostate-specific antigen that can be used as an indicator of prostate cancer. Other single-protein tests are used to evaluate cholesterol levels or determine pregnancy. This field of study is called proteomics, a blend of protein and genomics.

The proteome has been defined as a collection of all the proteins coded by our genes. In recent years, this field has expanded and moved from evaluation of single proteins to include the study of multiple proteins simultaneously. The goal is to allow researchers to understand the structure, function and interactions of the entire protein content in a specific organism. Another fundamental goal of proteomic screening is to generate a complete, three-dimensional map of the cell indicating the exact location and structure of each protein.

This process will allow scientists to compare proteins produced in one individual with those produced by others. The hope is that by comparing proteins found in different patients, patterns of health and disease will emerge. This is made possible by the fact the structure of proteins is constantly evolving. Protein production over time varies with the specific requirements of the body, and can be modified by stress or disease. The cell responds to internal and external changes by regulating the activity and level of its proteins; therefore, changes in the proteome provide a snapshot of the cell in action. This concept assumes that a person with a disease will produce different proteins than a healthy individual. By comparing one person’s proteins with another’s, a diagnosis and, hopefully, appropriate treatment can be devised.


This approach is quite different from using a person’s genome to predict disease. The genome is essentially fixed. As a result, an individual’s DNA can be used to indicate a predilection to certain conditions. For example, the genetic sequence for sickle cell anemia has been identified and found to produce an anomaly in red blood cells that can lead to serious medical issues. As a result, it was recently found the genetic information responsible for this problem can be experimentally modified. Early indications suggest the problem is thereby eliminated.

Proteomics will be used in a different fashion. The proteome will be analyzed and abnormalities identified. Steps will then be taken to modify the aberrant proteins and allow the body to repair itself. This is truly exciting technology with the potential to fundamentally change how we provide care, particularly in terms of diagnosis, treatment planning, preventive therapies and early disease management.

Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS

Editor in Chief



From Decisions in Dentistry. April 2019;5(4):6.

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