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How Is the Field of Genetics Affecting Pharmacology?

One of the emerging fields in medicine today is pharmacogenomics. It combines two areas of study — pharmacology and genomics — to look at how genes impact the efficacy of medications on different people.

As the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Genetics Home Reference notes, “Many drugs that are currently available are ‘one size fits all,’ but they don’t work the same way for everyone. It can be difficult to predict who will benefit from a medication, who will not respond at all, and who will experience negative side effects or adverse drug reactions.”

Adverse Drug Reactions

You’ve possibly experienced adverse drug reactions yourself — if an over-the-counter cold medicine makes you feel too drowsy or you develop a rash after taking an antibiotic, it can be the result of your genetic makeup in combination with the medication. Some adverse drug reactions can be severe enough to lead to hospitalization and death, making this an important field of study with the potential to save lives.

Genetic Research

Thanks to genetic research like the Human Genome Project, we’re beginning to understand much more about the impact genes have on health, and as we get more and more knowledge over time, we’ll be able to apply that knowledge in healthcare. Pharmacogenomics, as it develops as a field, will certainly be one of the places where a better understanding of genes will make a difference.

“In the near future, doctors will be able to routinely use information about your genetic makeup to choose those drugs and drug doses that offer the greatest chance of helping you,” notes the National Institute of Health’s National Human Genome Research Institute’s web page. “By using information about your genetic makeup, doctors soon may be able to avoid the trial-and-error approach of giving you various drugs that are not likely to work for you until they find the right one. Using pharmacogenomics, the ‘best-fit’ drug to help you can be chosen from the beginning.”

Pharmacogenomic studies are already playing a role in treating cancer and AIDS. One example comes from the National Human Genome Research Institute’s site: Therapy involving the breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin) only works for women whose tumors have a particular genetic profile leading to overproduction of the HER2 protein. As the field advances, doctors will be able to better determine treatments that will work — and treatments that won’t — by factoring pharmacogenomics into the mix.

This field of study isn’t just limited to which drugs currently exist. It is already impacting the creation of new drugs.

“Until recently, drug developers usually used an approach that involved screening for chemicals with broad action against a disease,” notes the National Human Genome Research Institute. “Researchers are now using genomic information to find or design drugs aimed at subgroups of patients with specific genetic profiles. In addition, researchers are using pharmacogenomic tools to search for drugs that target specific molecular and cellular pathways involved in disease.” The site goes on to note that one drug currently being developed to treat heart disease will require genetic testing before it can be prescribed — a sign of things to come.

The Nurse’s Role in Pharmacogenomics

Eastern Illinois University (EIU) is preparing nurses in its RN to BSN program for this exciting new future with the class Pharmacogenomics. As the course description for the class notes, “This course presents essential and foundational knowledge of genetics and the application of these principles in human health. Attention is given to the interplay of genetics in optimizing drug therapy and patient care.”

Nurses with even the most basic level of experience are aware of their important role in drug therapy and patient care. By administering drugs, monitoring their patients for adverse drug reactions, and noting a patient’s progress, nurses are contributing to the body of knowledge about a particular medication.

As pharmacogenomics develops as a field, it will serve nurses well to be knowledgeable about it. It’s obviously important to be up on the latest innovations in healthcare, but it will be especially important for nurses who will be key to advancing pharmacogenomics. As with many different facets of healthcare, the observations nurses make providing direct patient care and the information they share with doctors goes a long way toward bettering our understanding of how medicines work, how the body works, and how to improve patient care.

Though pharmacogenomics is relatively unknown to a number of people in the healthcare community, it is going to play a critical role in the years to come. That’s why we’ve made it a core course in our RN to BSN program at Eastern Illinois University. It is central to understanding how certain drugs work, and therefore central to patient care and our goal of preparing nurses with the education they need to fulfill their vital roles on healthcare teams.

Learn more about Eastern Illinois University’s online RN to BSN program.


NIH: What Is Pharmacogenomics?

NIH: Frequently Asked Questions About Pharmacogenomics

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