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Drake receives $112,000 for a lab promoting research and teaching of personalized medicine

March 22, 2011
In today's "one size fits all" healthcare experience, one patient's successful drug therapy is another's prescription for harmful negative side effects. But in the cutting edge field of pharmacogenomics, researchers are studying how an individual's genetics affect the body's response to drugs, and how medical professionals can use that knowledge to match patients with the best available drug treatment from the beginning. They're working to soon make personalized medicine the norm instead of today's trial-and-error approach.

Drake University is poised to take a leadership role in this kind of research, with a new Pharmacogenomics Teaching and Research Laboratory currently under development to open in the fall of 2012. A recent $112,000 grant from the Grow Iowa Values Fund for the second phase of the project will help support acquisition of equipment and the design of a rigorous pharmacogenomics curriculum. In addition to the Grow Iowa Values Fund, creation of this facility is also supported  by a generous gift from Jack Ellis PH'57, the CPHS Harris endowment, CPHS technology fees, and a federal appropriation directed at purchasing equipment.  

"We are training pharmacists and health sciences graduates who are going to play a very critical role in making the field of personalized medicine a success," says Pramod Mahajan, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences and the author of the grant proposal. Mahajan already teaches an elective course in pharmacogenomics. "Healthcare employers are looking for people with expertise in this area. Students who will be trained in pharmacogenomics will have a greater marketability."

Mahajan says the new Pharmacogenomics Teaching and Research Laboratory will not only benefit students, but that the facilities will enhance faculty research projects across science departments and spur collaboration across institutions. (Des Moines University professors have already expressed interest in working with Drake faculty in the lab.)

Additionally, Drake's plan calls to engage existing healthcare workers by offering professional development training.

"This is a rather new area, so many people who have been in the healthcare workforce for a long time didn't know anything about this when they were trained," Mahajan says. "But they are going to be required to acquire some of this training through continuing education. We hope that Drake will be able to provide that opportunity through the Pharmacogenomics Teaching and Research Laboratory."

Beyond its initial benefits, the new lab may inspire entrepreneurially minded students to explore ideas that could advance the pharmacy profession -- a goal of the Drake Entrepreneurial Leadership Tools for Advancement (DELTA) Rx Institute.

"It is our hope that some of the students who are going through our training program will be entrepreneurial enough that they will begin thinking about starting a new business in this area," Mahajan says. "Personalized medicine is going to literally explode in the next few years. Students are already thinking and already excited about the possibility that they can use this knowledge for starting a business that's high tech and that's going to fill a gap."

Personalized medicine practices are already in use to determine whether it is safe to prescribe certain medications, and at what dosage.

Pharmacogenomics is used in adjusting the dose of drugs such as Warfarin, a blood thinner that is among the top three medications prescribed in USA, but also one of the top three drugs responsible for causing adverse drug reactions. Genetic tests recommended for this drug could save lives and reduce hospitalization costs.

Currently, the FDA recommends carrying out a genetic test to discover whether HIV-1 infected patients to AIDS patients carry a gene type called HLA-B*-5701, which causes severe hypersensitivity reactions in individuals that take a drug called Abacavir. It is possible to test individuals for the presence (or absence) of this gene type before prescribing this drug and avoid the adverse effect.

"Although FDA recommends using genetic information for prescribing these "” and many other"” drugs, how many physicians and hospitals actually do it is unclear," Mahajan says. "A recent report published by the Office of the Secretary of Human and Health Services has identified educating health care workers in this area as a national need. That's why educating tomorrow's health care workers in pharmacogenomics is so critical. I believe Drake University is paving the way."