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Pharmacogenomics - The New Era of Personalized Medicine

BY: Pournami Gouthaman | Category: Healthcare | Submitted: 2011-02-22 07:10:20
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Article Summary: "Pharmacogenomics is the study of drug response of individuals based on their genetic makeup. The detailed study of genome of an individual reveals the details about the metabolizing capacity, time taken to break down and utilize the drug, etc. which opens a way to create personalized medicine which will be more safe and effectiv.."


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Diseases, medicines and treatment are inevitable in our day to day life. Today you might have noticed that medical industry and medical profession is not only considered as a part of social service, but also as the top booming industry which has turned into the best profitable business or investment. Usually when you visit a doctor, the diagnosis of your ailment is done by examining your physical body, enquiring the various symptoms you suffer from, and a final conclusion is reached after studying your detailed blood test or scan reports. Also, the treatment method and medicines are prescribed on an assumption about its effectiveness, the patient's tolerance and response. Many at times doctors adopt a trial and error pattern to finally decide on the exact medication and its dosage for a particular patient. What if your doctor can recommend a medicine that exclusively solves your health problem, just by knowing your genetic makeup? What do you think about the idea of a personalized medicine which is apt in every respect just for you? This is what covers the topic of pharmacogenomics.

Pharmacogenomics is a combination of pharmacology and genomics and deals with the detailed analysis on how an individual's heredity affects the body's response to drugs. With advancing researches and developments in this area, we can expect in near future, medicines that are custom-made or tailored for individuals based on their unique genetic makeup. It is true that a person's reaction to medicines is largely influenced by his or her environment, diet, lifestyle, and age and health condition. But ways to reveal and study the genetic information of individuals has given a new outlook to treatments, paving way to the creation of personalized drugs that has greater efficiency and are much safer. This is because, detailed study of genetic information of a patient will help to know more about their body's capacity to break down and utilize the drugs. Pharmacogenomics associates gene expressions and single nucleotide polymorphisms with a medicine's efficacy or toxicity, thus optimising the therapy with respect to an individual's genotype and minimising adverse effects.

You might wonder what difference it makes if you are treated with personalized medicine and how it is going to benefit common people. Personalized medicines will be more powerful. That is, medicines manufactured by pharmaceutical companies will be based on proteins, enzymes and RNA molecules that are related with the disease, thereby helping to discover drugs which are more specific and targeted. The accuracy not only support maximising therapeutic effects, but also aims to decrease damage to the surrounding healthy cells. Another advantage is that using pharmacogenomics, doctors can abandon the trial and error method and prescribe better effective and safe drugs the first time itself. This will facilitate speedy recovery and reduce side effects or allergic responses. Determining the correct drug dosage for patients are now done, taking into account the weight and age of the patient. This can be replaced by more accurate methods of finding appropriate dosage based on the patient's genetic makeup that discloses how fast the body metabolizes the drugs. Drug overdose, which is a common phenomenon, can be thus avoided.

A person's genome can give valuable information about the diseases his or her body is susceptible to, and this helps the individual to take necessary precautions by bringing in changes to lifestyle or food habits, exercise routines and so on. Also, effective treatments can be initiated at proper time. Pharmacogenomics promises the production of better vaccines in future. Genetic material (DNA or RNA) or proteins used as vaccines can activate the immune system without causing any infection. These futuristic vaccines will be stable and easy to store, cheap and can be produced in a way so as to carry more than one strain of pathogen. Genomic targeting has an advantage that it needs to be tested only on a specific population, reducing the hassle for drug discovery and approval procedures. The overall cost of health care gets reduced as a result of decreased number of negative drug reactions, failed drug trials, drug approval time, time for its effect on patients, amount of medications patients should take to find the best therapy, etc.

Today, pharmacogenomics is in use to a limited extent for treating serious illnesses like cancer, cardio-vascular disorders, HIV, asthma, tuberculosis and diabetes. Even though personalized medicines are very much advantageous and useful, there are some limitations for its development. The first and foremost is the complexity in finding the gene variations that are responsible for the drug response. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) occurs every 100 to 300 bases along the human genome. The limited information about which all genes are behind each drug response further complicates the process. Then, in some cases, there won't be any drug alternative if individuals have gene variations which prevent them from tolerating one or two approved medicines. The high cost of bringing a drug to market may discourage the pharmaceutical companies in producing drugs that suits only a part of the population. And mainly the use of personalized medicine demands all medical practitioners to know about genetics, and adds an extra step of diagnosing patients with due respect to which medicine will be best for them.

Every technology will have both advantages and disadvantages. Taking into consideration the bright side of it, pharmacogenomics is surely a solution to the current challenges in the medical field.

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