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NIH To Study How Genes Affect Response to Medicines

By Alison Davis

On the Front Page...

Did you know that according to a recent study, 2 million people were hospitalized in one year alone for reactions to properly prescribed medicines? That certain allergy medicines work wonders for some people but not for others? That a normally safe dose of a certain cancer drug can kill a child who has an unusual gene type?

Continued...

NIH is trying to figure out why people can have such different responses to medicines.

Clearly, what you eat, where you live and work, and what other medications you take can all affect whether you react to — and even what side effects you may experience from — a given drug. But scientists know that another key factor is genetics. Pharmacogenetics is the science of how genes influence your body's response to drugs.

Recently, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, along with six other NIH components, announced funding of a new research program, the "Pharmacogenetics Research Network," to attack the problem.

The network, a web of nine teams of scientists across America, will collectively study how genes affect people's responses to a range of different medicines including antidepressants, asthma drugs and chemotherapy treatments. A news release providing digests of each team's research projects is posted at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/news/releases/pharmacogenetics.html.

At the heart of the network is a shared information library, called "PharmGKB," into which network researchers will deposit results they collect. Contents of the library will be accessible to all scientists, with the goal of forging new links between gene variation and drug response.

Initially PharmGKB will house mostly gene variations of research volunteers who have had a particular response to a certain medicine. Privacy will be tightly guarded by the gatekeeper of the data repository — none of the gene information will be linked to any information that might identify individual people.

Dr. Rochelle Long, a pharmacologist at NIGMS who spearheaded the pharmacogenetics research effort, hopes that over time PharmGKB will itself pose new questions to the scientific community.

"We're hoping that this research network will catalyze the whole field of pharmacogenetics, helping researchers move forward in their quest to understand and predict how people react so differently to treatments of a wide array of diseases," said Long. "The timing is right."

To help people understand the topic of pharmacogenetics, NIGMS has produced an educational brochure, Medicines for YOU. The publication is free, and is available in English or Spanish. Call 496-7301 to obtain a copy, or visit http://www.nigms.nih.gov/funding/medforyou.html.


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