29 Apr How Pharmacogenomics is Improving Medical Care
Medical care has come a long way since the days of attempting the bleed away disease with the use of leeches and putting heroin in children’s cough syrup. Today, it’s possible to address diseases and disorders with resources never before thought possible, from treating cancer with techniques like immunotherapy to the use of 3D printing for both prostheses and procedures.
As medical science improves, so do the techniques doctors and researchers use to customize disease treatment. Pharmacogenomics is on the forefront of these medical advances, providing physicians with new and innovative opportunities to address patient needs.
What Is Pharmacogenomics?
Pharmacogenomics is the process of testing biological information to create a more customized approach to medical care. Also called gene site testing or PGx, this strategy delves into your individual genetic makeup to find the best way to make medical decisions, including guiding the process of selecting medications.
Before writing a prescription and starting patients on a treatment plan, doctors invest a little extra time into taking fluid samples, whether blood or saliva, and screening these samples for genetic information that indicates medication efficacy. It may take a few extra days to begin a course of care, but for patients stuck on the medication merry-go-round, a few extra days is well worth the result: an effective solution to a medical concern.
How It Works
Pharmacogenomics begins with the collection of a biological sample to study the genetic differences involved in the function of various metabolic pathways. Metabolic pathways, or chemical reactions that take place within a cell, are essential processes that guide how the body handles all sorts of necessary functions to promote life – and that includes how the body metabolizes medication. While metabolic pathways are similar person to person, genetic variations can cause differences that affect how medications work after ingestion. This is why one person can take a drug and be effectively cured, while another person can suffer horrible side effects with no progress in managing symptoms.
Advanced labs can complete all testing via a non-invasive cheek swab. After collection, these biological samples are sent to be processed in a lab for all required information based on the specifics of a patient’s condition. This process isn’t immediate but due to the importance of speed in medical treatments, samples are tested as quickly as possible for all necessary genetic markers.
Pharmacogenomics can be used on a broader scale or limited to specific body systems, including:
- Psychiatric panels, for the prescription of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs
- Pain management panels, to determine the efficacy of various forms of pain relievers for chronic pain patients
- Neurological panels, for the use of anti-seizure and dementia drugs
- Gastrointestinal, improving the efficacy of prescriptions for those with gastrointestinal problems like IBS and Crohn’s
Why It Matters
Under normal circumstances, when your doctor writes you a prescription, he is making a judgment based on experience with medications, your height and weight, and the nature of the diagnosis he has assigned you. In most cases, this works – on the surface, at least. In reality, this kind of approach to treatment fails to take into account any of the specific biological information that makes you, you. When this information is taken into account, however, medical professionals can write prescriptions and create dosages using scientific research and reason – not guesswork.
Doctors know the rudimentary functions behind many major drugs, and they also understand that not all medications will work for everyone. Instead of playing the medical equivalent of Russian roulette, which can be stressful, painful, and even sometimes dangerous, it’s possible to use the kind of information attainable through pharmacogenomic testing to choose the right drug, not the wrong one.
According to research, genetic components can drive up to 95% of patient variability, and, in spite of this, few of the 40 million annual prescriptions written in the United States take this into account. However, with the promising results in clinical testing, incorporating gene site testing into medical management is likely to become more widespread in the coming years.
The Benefits of PGx
Yes, it’s possible to eventually find the right medication through trial and error, but pharmacogenomics expedites this process to enhance both patient results and safety. The advancement of pharmacogenomics has a lot to offer doctors and patients alike, with benefits that include:
- A safe, non-invasive method to test the genes related to specific metabolic pathways
- Improved efficacy of diagnosis and prescription with a diminished likelihood of adverse reactions or overmedication
- Long-lasting opportunities as genetics do not change over time
- Reduction in patient doctor visits and associated medical costs
- Simple testing methods that reduce the risk of user error and thus increase the likelihood of accurate results
The science behind pharmacogenomics holds the key to the future of customized medical care. A simple cheek swab can turn the world of disease treatment upside down, using the genetic differences in metabolic pathways to alter the ways in which medication can be prescribed to help and heal. Patients with complex diagnoses or symptoms that could point to a variety of conditions can relate well to the trials and tribulations that come with finding an effective treatment, but pharmacogenomics can end this cycle. With a medication plan catered to biology rather than a best guess, doctors can improve patient care and patients can finally find a solution that works.