Designer Medicines for Designer Genes
Posted November 1st, 2002
Modern medicine relies on various drugs and medicines to treat and cure diseases. However, the side effects of these medicines often can be worse than the disease.
Mild side effects might include rashes, fever, or nausea. However, more harmful side effects such as internal bleeding, abnormal heart rhythms, and severe allergic reactions can be devastating
to a patient.
Before doctors prescribe drugs for a patient, they usually get a medical history from the patient so that medicines that may cause a negative reaction can be avoided.
In fact, there is evidence that side effects from drugs cause a staggering number of hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. Of course, once a patient finds out his or her reaction to
a drug, treatment comes much easier.
In the past, genetic prediction only could be done by looking at family history. For example, if a person's mother is allergic to penicillin, it is likely her offspring
will have a similar reaction. However, with new drugs being developed each day, this determination only works if a parent or sibling has taken a drug. Now scientists are working on ways
to predict whether a patient will have adverse side effects before ever administering a drug.
The way a person will react to a drug is greatly influenced by genetics. Your genes control all your body functions, from the types of proteins in your cell walls
to how your body breaks down or metabolizes drugs. By studying a person's genes, doctors feel they may be able to predict with a good amount of certainty if a patient will have a bad
reaction to a drug. This sort of personalized medicine on a genetic level is called pharmacogenetics.
For example, if your body is slow to metabolize a drug, the drug might not become active for treatment in the right amount of time or your body may act as if it has
been given too high of a dosage. In the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, a study was published that suggested that 60 percent of all drugs that most commonly cause
problems result from slow metabolisms. Likewise, if your cells do not have the right protein coat for a drug to attach to, it might be useless for treatment and linger in body systems,
harming other cells.
Pharmacogenetics would be most helpful in drugs that are used to treat cancer, leukemia, and tissue rejection from organ transplants. Additionally, pharmacogenetics
might help keep helpful drugs on the market if these drugs are in danger of being pulled by the FDA because they cause too many harmful side effects. This would not completely eliminate
harmful side effects from drugs, but it could help reduce the occurrences.
If doctors can take a snapshot of your genes to determine if they will cause harmful side effects, they can prescribe alternative medicines or treatments - and
save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
Use the Internet to research how this technology can help treat different diseases like cancer and leukemia. Create a brochure that shows how this is possible.