After scientists cracked the human genetic code 10 years ago, many expected that it would pave the way to treating certain diseases or even preventing them from ever occurring. But it is important to note that genes do not necessarily cause disease—they merely carry a switch that can be triggered by nature or the environment we are exposed in.
While it can be disappointing to learn that the breakthrough experts made 10 years ago about the human DNA cannot cure cancer, it is important to note that it paved the way for new genetic tests to be invented that have quite a lot of clinical applications. Among the most pertinent and noteworthy of these applications is a field of medicine known as “Pharmacogenetics.”
What is Pharmacogenetics?
Pharmacogenetics is a study on the human genes’ effects on an individual’s response to certain substances. It basically combines pharmacology and genomic studies in order to develop a safe and effective medication plan for a person based on his or her DNA makeup.
This medical study makes use of the concept that all drugs pass through a number of biochemical pathways during the process of being broken down by the liver and other organs after ingestion. These pathways are defined by a person’s genes which is why the reaction to certain medications or substances of one person may differ from the other.
Benefits of Pharmacogenetic Testing
Once a person shows signs that a certain medication did not “agree” with him, it may mean that his genes cannot create a biochemical pathway that could break down and eliminate the drug from his system.
Take a look at the example provided by Dr. Khalsa below:
A patient frequently asks for more codeine to relieve his pain. This is a sign of a malingering patient seeking narcotics. After conducting a pharmacogenetic test on the patient, the doctor found out that the patient had a quick metabolism for codeine. He would break down the substance just minutes after taking it in, leaving the substance no chance to provide pain relief for the patient. Since then, the patient was given different narcotics that his body would not immediately break down but is still able to provide him pain relief.
According to Mayo Clinic’s research, pharmacogenomics testing is made to determine whether or not medication is the right choice for you. It can also determine the following specifics so that you can receive better medical treatment:
- Possible serious side effects brought about by a medication
The Use of Pharmacogenetics in Treating Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
Since pharmacogenetics determines the dosage that is acceptable to a person’s specific genetic makeup, it can be considered a viable tool for assessing and treating people who have become addicted to alcohol or other potent substances.
Several studies explain the possibilities of the field of study in identifying the factors and response treatment for drug dependent patients. One research published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health concluded that pharmacogenetic findings can contribute to better understanding of substance dependence. Another identified certain gene variants that affect pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic factors that can serve as a guide for the medical practitioner in choosing the right pharmacotherapeutic agent for a patient’s treatment to avoid subsequent relapse.
While a person needs only to undergo the test once since his or her genetic makeup stays the same throughout his life, there are still a number of limitations, including:
- Over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin currently do not have any pharmacogenetic tests available
The best thing about having a pharmacogenetic test prior to rehabilitation is that it would give the doctors a head start on determining the right treatment for you. What matters is that there is a specific treatment for every individual which means there is hope.