Talking about Stratified Medicine

In the future, doctors may use DNA tests to help them decide which medicine to prescribe. This process of splitting people into different treatment groups is called ‘stratified medicine’.

[Download this activity as a PDF or word document] 


This video gives an explanation of the science: 

Watch on YouTube


Paper Chain People

1. Fold your paper concertina style (back-and-forth)

2. Draw a person shape on the front.
Make sure the hands and feet extend off the edge

3. Cut out and unfold to make a chain of people.
Do not cut across the hands or feet.

How many people will you make?
Our researchers study mental illness.

  • 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues each year [1]
  • 1 in 3 people will experience symptoms of anxiety or depression in their lifetime [2]

Paper chain people    Paper chain template on top of card


4. Add some DNA to each person. You could use stickers or pens.
Try using a few different colours to make a pattern.

DNA is like a recipe or set of instructions.
It tells the cells of the body what to do.

  • For some things (e.g. eye or hair colour) there is a clear set of instructions.
  • However, for others (e.g. height), DNA has an influence, but how tall you grow will depend on other things too (e.g. diet).
  • Sometimes, a change in just one gene can lead to a health condition (e.g. cystic fibrosis). 
    But more commonly, especially for mental ill-health, numerous genes are involved, and the final outcome will be influenced by many different things - including lifestyle and stressful life events.

In the future, doctors may use DNA tests, to help them decide which medicines to prescribe.

Stickers on back and corresponding coloured pill boxes alongside

Then colour and decorate the people as you wish. 

In this picture:

  • The person on the left has mostly blue stickers, so would respond best to the blue medicine.
  • The person in the middle has mostly yellow stickers, so yellow medicine would be best.
  • The person on the far right has a mixed pattern, so the genetic test may not be informative. The doctor may need to look elsewhere for clues.


5. Turn over your paper chain people and decorate them.

Child decorating paper chain people    Child holds up her decorated paper chain people

What colour will their eyes and hair be?  

As well as DNA, our researchers also look at lifestyle factors – what people eat, what sports or activities they do etc. Maybe you could add some clues to your people?

Stratified Medicine for anti-depressant prescribing

At the moment, doctor's tend to prescribe the most common types of anti-depressant first. 
If that doesn't work or the patient experiences too many side effects, the doctor will try another option. 
This process may of trial and error could be repeated for months or even years before the most appropriate medication is found. 

In the future, we may be able to give people a DNA test and use the results to help us prescribe that person the most appropriate medicine (for them), the first time around.  

Download a copy of these slides: 
PowerPoint: File Prescribing Process.pptx
PDF: PDF icon Prescribing Process.pdf

Flow chart showing current prescribing process of trial and error



Potential future prescribing process - genetic test and prescribe correct antidepressant

This video summarises the activity: 

Watch on YouTube
[This video has no sound]


This activity fits within the Scottish Curriculum: 

Higher Biology:  Genomic Sequencing: Explain that personal genomics can be used in health, in order to develop treatments that will be personalised, specific and less likely to be ineffective. 

Higher Human Biology: 1.5 Human Genomics: Pharmacogenetics and personalised medicine


[1]  Mental Health Taskforce NE. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. 2016. Available from:

[2] GLAD Study of Anxiety and Depression. Available from: