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Why Is Pharmacogenomics Important to the Field of Genetics?

What if you could take a medication tailor-made for your specific genetic makeup? That branch of medical science is already in the works. It’s called pharmacogenomics, and it’s changing the way healthcare providers care for their patients.

Pharmacogenomics, Defined

The field of genetics has become increasingly valuable over the last few decades in preventing and treating certain diseases. For example, a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation raises a woman’s risk for ovarian and breast cancers. As a result, women may take proactive steps to reduce that risk, such as mastectomy or being extra diligent about screenings.

Pharmacogenomics follows the path of this type of genetic study. While pharmacogenomics is complex, the National Library of Medicine captures its purpose in one simple sentence: The study of how an individual’s genetic inheritance affects the body’s response to drugs.

So, just like DNA determines what color one’s eyes or hair color will be, genetics also plays a role in how individuals respond to medicine. Think of it as “the right drug for the right person.”

What Does This Mean for the Patient?

Pharmacogenomics is part of the field of precision medicine, a patient-centric approach to healthcare. Within precision medicine, scientists intend to optimize the care patients receive. A perfect example is the body’s response to the painkiller codeine and how quickly (or slowly) it is converted to its active form, morphine.

Those individuals, whose genes produce more of an enzyme called CYP2D6, process the drug very quickly, presenting the danger of overdose — even with a “standard” dose. Alternatively, some people’s genes produce CYP2D6, which doesn’t work. In that case, those patients would find little-to-no pain relief from codeine. However, if doctors knew this information, they could prescribe a different type of painkiller.

Another example involves cancer treatments. A process called biomarker testing allows oncologists to identify the most effective treatment for each cancer patient — while at the same time avoiding losing precious time to treatments that are unlikely to work.

Pharmacogenomics in Practice

While pharmacogenomics is firmly rooted in science and research, its application is relevant in many areas of healthcare. This background gives registered nurses (RN) who have education in pharmacogenomics a distinct advantage.

Not every Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program offers classes in pharmacogenomics. Still, there are opportunities available — including the RN to BSN online program at Eastern Illinois University (EIU). The program dedicates an entire course to pharmacogenomics, with the goal of increasing students’ basic knowledge of human genetics and genomics in order to optimize the management of illness and chronic disease.

This course also discusses major classifications of drugs, their use in various disorders and the significance of pharmacogenomics in nursing practice. Having this foundation is instrumental in empowering nurses to better do their jobs, which often involve skills in medication administration and management. This foundational knowledge is also critically important for preventing adverse drug reactions (ADRs).

Should RNs pursue a more specialized role involving pharmacogenomics, there is heightened salary potential. While the average national annual salary might be considered “mid-range” at $51, 826, ZipRecruiter reports seeing salaries as high as $122,000 per year in the pharmacogenomics field. Of course, BSN-prepared nurses have many advantages regarding the job market. ZipRecruiter reports the national average salary for BSN-prepared nurses to be $79,623 annually.

A Rapid Acceleration Into the Future of Precision Medicine

Precision medicine is in no way “new,” but thanks to advancements in science and technology, the pace at which medical professionals can apply the research has accelerated. The more education one invests in this field, the greater the opportunities to excel within it.

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

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