University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Why study pharmacogenetics?

Just occasionally some people can react badly to a prescribed medicine (an adverse drug reaction), suffering anything from nausea to hospitalisation and even death. The most widely quoted figures from 1994 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association claim that in the USA, 2 million hospitalisations and 100,000 deaths occurred due to adverse drug reactions.

Currently doctors can only use trial and error to find the best dose for a patient. The ultimate aim of pharmacogenetics is what has been termed “personalised medicine”, i.e. precise tailoring of types and doses of medicines to an individual’s body to maximise efficacy and minimise adverse side effects.

Pharmacogenetics = Pharmacology + Genetics

Pharmacology: The study of how endogenous (from the body) and exogenous (made outside of the body) molecules interact with our cells, organs and body.

Genetics: The study of how inherited DNA (genes) influences an organism’s behaviour and interactions with their environment. 

Pharmacogenetics research

Pharmacogenetics is a rapidly expanding area of biomedical research at the physiological, cellular
and genetic levels. At the genetic level scientists are attempting to identify those genes that predispose someone to a particular disease or condition and those that produce reactions or allergies to specific medications. At the cellular level, mouse cells are used to help understand how changes that occur during DNA replication and repair in a person's genes may affect their responses to drugs.

Activity: Task: Go to  Medicines for You: studying how your genes can make a difference. This is a publication of the US National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Discuss the ways in which this body presents the ethical issues of pharmacogenetics.

Read on to find out about how pharmacogenetics will help future doctors to prescribe
personalised drug treatments.

Next: Genetic tests in action

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