Health Watch: Genes play a role in response to medication

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Debbie Spaizman can't get enough of her prize roses, but her green thumb was nearly sidelined by a health concern.

Surgery was needed, but she hesitated due to how she reacted to pain medication.

"My head would spin, I really was foggy and I had itching all over my body," Spaizman said. "But I had no pain relief at all. I thought twice about having the surgery."

To get answers, Debbie enrolled in the Humanwide Project at Stanford Medical School. The study flips the model on healthcare by personalizing treatment. That includes a deep dive into pharmaco-gen-oh-mics.

"Pharmacogenomics specifically tests for genes that look at the rate in which we metabolize drugs," says Clinical Professor of Medicine Dr. Megan Mahoney. "It can determine the dosing of medications and also predict any side effects."

It means our genes can play a big role in how we respond to medicine. And so, with a quick swab of the cheek, Spaizman finally got answers.

"The result of the test showed that I'm a slow metabolizer," Spaizman said. "Drugs will stay in my system longer than they will for someone else."

With that, a plan started to come together for Debbie.

"We were able to identify the class of opioids that would work for her based on her pharmacogenomic make-up, and then she was able to go through with the surgery," Mahoney said.

"It was life changing for me," Spaizman said.

And she's not the only one.

"Twenty-five percent of patients had a change in their dose of medication based on the pharmacogenomics test," Mahoney said.

It's an approach that Debbie calls an "absolute game changer."

In addition to Stanford Medical Center and Saint Jude Hospital, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is also making big strides in personalizing medicine for its vets.
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