Pharmacies want your DNA

If your pharmacist asks you to spit into a tube next time you pick up a prescription, don’t be alarmed.

Several Okanagan pharmacies are taking part in a research study that's aiming to use patient DNA to help prescribe medication more effectively.

Patients in B.C. who agree to take part in the “Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in the Community Pharmacy” research project can provide their pharmacist a DNA sample (in the form of their saliva) and have University of British Columbia researchers sequence it to help determine how effective their medication is.

Emma Kim, a West Kelowna pharmacist taking part in the study, explains that scientists are increasingly discovering that reactions to medication can have a lot to do with an individual's genetics.

That means a medication that works well for one person might not for another, depending on what’s in their DNA. 

Of course, the prescription process doesn’t always take that into account.

“So far medication is one size fits all, and it’s a lot of trial and error,” Kim explains. Because of that fact, “lots of patients suffer, lots of health care providers are confused and frustrated at the same time.”

The research project, co-funded by Genome BC and the BC Pharmacy Association and researched by a team at UBC, hopes to examine participants' genomes and use the information to help health care professionals prescribe drugs that will be the safest and most effective for them.

Kim stresses, however, the study will only examine whatever medications a patient is already taking, and isn't aiming to delve further into genetic links to certain diseases or conditions.

The first phase of the project, which was essentially a test run to see if collecting all the necessary information was practical in pharmacies, wrapped up last year. Phase 2 will kick off this spring, with pharmacies from Vancouver to Chetwynd taking part.

Kim says she hopes the research will help further a health care climate where patients are treated based on their unique circumstances, not just what is most common.

“If we have the information to make lives better, I think we should use it, as long as we can do that safely,” she says.

“I think (this project) is just another way of making sure that you care for the person, rather than trying to make treatment fit into whatever is available commercially.”

For more information on the Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in the Community Pharmacy project, visit Genome British Columbia or British Columbia Pharmacy Association’s websites.


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