There are a lot of people who refuse to take prescribed and non-prescribed medication. Many for fear of any adverse side effects that can lead to hospitalizations or even death. Looking at the numbers, there is a reason why. In Canada, more than 10,000 Canadians die every year and 200,000 are sent to the hospital as a result of adverse drug reactions. In the United States, adverse drug reactions are the 4th leading cause of death in Americans. These high numbers are a product of certain drugs metabolizing differently within different individuals. As seen in a case in 2007, where a newborn baby had died of a morphine overdose. The mother was given a small dose codeine after a painful birth and she had metabolized the drug into morphine so quickly that it became present in her breast milk in lethal amounts that her baby ingested. It makes you wonder, how does a painkiller work with no problems in one person but can kill another – its by your DNA.
This idea isn’t newly discovered, long before human DNA was even sequenced, it was assumed that negative drug reactions appear to run in families. It was under this pretense that the term pharmacogenetics was developed. And since the progress of DNA sequencing technology, this field has been ever-growing. Genes are what makes certain people able to metabolize drugs properly and causes others to die from the side effects of the same drug. The genes in question are called CYP genes – a family of genes present in liver enzymes – involved in the metabolising of drugs and conversion to their active form. CYP genes are present in every person, but like the genes for hair, eye colour or skin colour, everyone inherits varying versions of them. CYP genes have the ability to make drugs more or less toxic, as well as break down chemicals within drugs in varying speeds, or sometimes not at all.
Modern pharmacogenetic tests involve the analysis of around 5 or 6 CYP genes that metabolize most of the drugs available for sale. It is through these tests that scientists can determine the diversity of liver enzymes present in various populations. The ability of CYP genes to metabolize certain drugs can be generally varied based on ethnicity. With those of African descent having a large variety of liver enzymes, and thus, the ability to catabolize drugs quickly. People of Asian descent on the other hand, can take longer to break down drugs and will require lower drug doses.
With this information, it is easy to see the benefits of drug prescriptions based on gene-sequencing. Multiple studies suggest that pharmacogenetics can help reduce the number of adverse side effects that have become a problem with many drugs. Although the technology of DNA-sequence kits have become on the rise, its widespread use in the pharmaceutical field is still a work in progress. However, some major insurance companies in Canada have launched pilot projects surrounding pharmacogenetics and its use in the treatment of many different illnesses. Not only will this help millions of people to get the right drug they need, the economical benefits in prescribing the right drug can save healthcare systems, insurance companies, and citizens a lot of money.