Monday, February 15, 2010

Vanderbilt uses DNA to personalize medicine

Take a close look at the future of medicine.
A genetic profile that was done in your 20s is called up on the computer screen of a doctor 30 years later, and she discovers something in your DNA that means a certain cancer drug won't help you at all.

The doctor switches to alternative treatments better suited to your now-55-year-old body's inner design, and your health improves.

At Vanderbilt and other universities around the world, as well as at private industry labs, such futuristic work is under way. Companies such as Medco and CVS/Caremark, both of which deliver drugs to hundreds of thousands of patients under pharmacy benefits contracts for big employers, are dabbling in design and distribution of personalized drug regimens.

Proponents say targeted genetic screening of patients could help uncover in advance which drugs have the best chance of working on particular patients, saving money and lives in the long run.

The science remains in its infancy, and some critics sound the alarm over fears that the improper use of such information could spark genetic discrimination by insurers or others, preventing some people from getting health insurance or even jobs.

But medical researchers insist that the potential benefits far outweigh the imagined harms and that the evolving science could influence how drugs are prescribed and how medical costs are controlled for many decades.

"The real change will come when, at some point in your life, you go to the doctor and get a genetic profile created and put in your record before it's needed," said Dr. Dan Roden, Vanderbilt University's assistant vice chancellor for personalized medicine. "So when you're 50, the computerized medical record knows that you'll need a higher or lower dose of a particular drug."

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