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How DNA is Making Prescription Drugs More Effective

How DNA is Making Prescription Drugs More Effective

Technology is constantly changing our daily lives and now it’s changing how medications are prescribed. The results could mean personalized medicine using an individual’s genetic code as a blueprint.

Pharmacogenetics is the science of studying the drug-gene relationship and how your genes affect your body’s response to medications. The body has thousands of genes that determine a person’s characteristics, such as hair and eye color, and body and blood type. There are also genes specifically responsible for how your body processes medications. A simple DNA test can predict your response to drugs and possibly prevent life-threatening reactions.

Drugs interact in multiple ways within the body. They can work to interrupt germs or microorganisms that invade your body, destroy abnormal cells that cause cancer, replace deficient substances including hormones or vitamins, or can change the way that cells work in your body. These interactions depend on how the drug is taken and where the drug acts in the body. The body functions to break down the drug and get it to the desired location. DNA affects each step of this process and influences how you respond to the drug.

Adverse reactions to prescription drugs are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Pharmacogenetics is already used for some medications. For example, the drug Abacavir that is frequently used to treat HIV caused adverse reactions and in some cases death in 10% of people it was prescribed it. Testing a person’s DNA before prescribing a drug eliminates that risk.

There are a few limitations to pharmacogenetic testing:

  • One single pharmacogenetic test cannot be used to determine how someone will respond to all medications. A pharmacogenetic panel can be ordered to test multiple genes to determine how your body breaks down certain medications.
  • Pharmacogenetic tests are not available for all medications.

While pharmacogenetic testing is only used for certain drugs today, the field of study is growing quickly and gaining popularity. This science could soon shape the way physicians predict a drug’s efficacy, help guide dosage, improve patient safety and could be part of a routine check-up for those in their 50’s in the near future.