It's All In The Genes

Published: Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Submitted by: George W. Brett, M.D., medical director of the LIFE Programs

Though each one of us is a unique individual, we also know we share many of the characteristics of our parents. Perhaps it is our height, our blue eyes, or perhaps many of our mannerisms.

We also know that different people react differently to medications. Though many times it is simply an allergy, sometimes it is the way we handle the medication once it is in our bodies. Some can take a medication and become deathly sick, others take that same medication and have no problem with it.

It turns out that this is also genetically determined. How you respond to a medication depends on the drug metabolizing genes you inherited from your mother and father. As you know, genes are portions of our DNA which codes for all the characteristics that make “us.”

In conjunction with our pharmacy, CareKinesis, a grant from IBM, and a Bio-Bank called Coriell Life Sciences, we began a project to determine how some of our LIFE Program participants handle and metabolize the drugs they take. This is done by swabbing the inside of the participant’s mouth to obtain DNA samples which are then analyzed.

It turns out that a common blood thinner that we prescribe needs to be metabolized by our bodies into its active form in order for it to work properly. However, 20 percent of us don’t have the proper genes to perform this task. With this genetic testing, we will now have the capability to know if that participant can make the active form of that drug and benefit from it. If not, the physicians then know to prescribe a different medication. We like to call this “Precision Prescribing,”…and this is just the start of what could be the wave of the future.

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