The Future of Medicine

Genes may affect the way your medication works

/ Author: 

Medication isn't always one size fits all. But pharmacogenomics is now allowing a more personalized approach.

Pharmacogenomics uses information about patients' genes and provides information on medications and doses that will work better for them.

Depending on your genes, a medication may not work as well for you as it does for other people. In addition, some medications may have more side effects for some patients than for others. When doctors have this information, they can select the appropriate medication instead of using a trial-and-error approach.

An example of personalized medication using genetic information is Herceptin (trastuzumab) in the treatment of breast cancer. Some women have HER2+ breast cancer. HER2+ stands for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 positive. HER2+ is a special protein found on breast cancer cells that controls cancer growth and spread.

Herceptin is approved for treatment of HER2+ breast cancer because it is specifically designed to target the HER2 protein. By binding to the HER2 protein, Herceptin prevents the growth of cancer cells.

Testing for the HER2 protein will determine whether Herceptin treatment will likely be effective in treating an individual patient's breast cancer. On the other hand, Herceptin may not be an effective treatment if the HER2 protein is not evident.

In addition to breast cancer, the study of genetics and medications has allowed better use of medication for other health conditions, such as:

  • Leukemia
  • Colon cancer
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

The field of pharmacogenomics, or personalized medicine, doesn't encompass all medications, but with continued research, personalized medicine may become more of the rule than the exception. In fact, health experts expect pharmacogenomics to one day enable the better use of medications for depression, heart disease and other types of cancer.

With genetic information, doctors can choose the most effective medication or avoid a medication that may cause side effects.

Not only can pharmacogenomics lead to personalized medicine, it can lead to the development of new and better medications.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your medications require genetic testing.