NIH awards UCSF $12 million in new national effort to learn how genes affect people's repsonses to medicines

As the high-profile effort to decipher the human genome nears completion, scientists nationwide are launching another ambitious project -- this time to learn how variations in genes affect people's responses to drugs. Differences of a single "letter" among many thousands in the DNA instructions of a gene are thought to often affect drug response. The emerging research, in the field known as pharmacogenetics, is expected to revolutionize the way drugs are designed and tested, boost the effectiveness of drug treatments and cut the likelihood of side effects.

A team of more than 20 scientists at UC San Francisco has received an $11.9-million research grant -- the largest among nine awarded this week by the National Institutes of Health in the first phase of a major new pharmacogenetics research initiative. The national project aims to identify the genetic differences that determine why some people can be successfully treated with a drug while others with the same condition remain unaffected or are even harmed by the drug. The four-year UCSF study involves laboratory and clinical research to determine how natural genetic variation affects the performance of human proteins known as membrane transporters which act as cellular gatekeepers, controlling whether drugs get into the blood stream.

"Our ultimate goal is to able to read someone's DNA and know what drugs to use and at what doses, as well as which drugs to avoid," says Kathleen Giacomini, PhD, professor and chair of biopharmaceutical sciences at UCSF and the leader of the transporter study. "Transporter proteins are one of the keys to drug response, and that's why we are looking for the genetic variants among them." Giacomini, a leader in studies of how transporters affect absorption and elimination of drugs in the body, last year was awarded the Pharmaceutical Scientist of the Year Award by the International Pharmaceutical Federation in recognition of her research.

The UCSF project, totaling about $3.

Contact: Wallace Ravven
University of California - San Francisco

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