Social issues loom in development of gene-specific meds, says Stanford reseacher

DENVER, Co- Imagine being sick and your doctor, rather than handing you a bottle of pills, constructs a medicine tailor-made specifically for your illness and genetic makeup. While this scenario remains several years off in the future, Stanford University Medical Center's PharmGKB (Pharmacogenetics and Pharmacogenomics Knowledge Base) is working toward that end. Teri Klein, PhD, director of PharmGKB, will discuss her research at a news conference Friday morning at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver.

Pharmacogenetics research, Klein said, has recently garnered increased public attention due in part to the number of social issues it raises in addition to its scientific implications. Klein will focus on the technical and social challenges related to building a genetics database in a symposium called "The Promise of Pharmacogenomics in Medicine," which begins Friday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time.

The appeal of pharmacogenics is enormous, given the potential promise customized medical treatment holds, Klein said. "In the next 10 to 20 years, we'll have a better idea of how to test for variations in the genes that are involved in drug pathways," she predicted.

Behind PharmGKB's research is the basic premise that variations at a genetic level play a critical role in how a person responds to a drug. Any given gene within the body that's involved in how the drug is absorbed, distributed and eliminated may differ from person to person, resulting in variations of the drug's effectiveness. "A pharmaceutical company might learn that the drug it's developing is ineffective in 80 percent of people," Klein said. "Maybe for 20 percent it works great, but that's not everyone."

To develop custom medications that boost effectiveness, researchers need far-reaching access to comprehensive genetic and phenotypic data. Assembling these databases has already raised numerous questions about patient confidentiali

Contact: Eric Weissman
Stanford University Medical Center

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