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Using Genes to Pinpoint Prescriptions

Mapping the human genome is interesting, but why exactly is it useful?

a bottle of prescription pills

Photo: P.J.M. (flickr)

The tests can give doctors a better idea of whether or not particular drugs might help or harm a patient, or have little effect either way.

2.7 billion dollars.

2. 7 billion dollars is what the human genome project cost American taxpayers. That sounds like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things it actually sounds like a bargain.

Mapping the human genome is interesting, but why exactly is it useful?

Well, for example, prescribing medicine usually involves a lot of guesswork, and that knowledge of the human genome could help make prescribing drugs a more exact science.

Scientists have used the genome to create tests that analyze a patient’s genetic blueprint. The tests can give doctors a better idea of whether or not particular drugs might help or harm a patient, or have little effect either way. For example, one test uses a computer chip-like device to analyze DNA in blood samples. The device focuses on two particular genes that control how the liver uses enzymes to metabolize drugs. The test can alert doctors to how well particular patients metabolize drugs and adjust the dosage accordingly.

Most doctors and hospitals haven’t learned about this advantage yet. The FDA has already approved some tests, and more are on the way. It won’t be long before medicine becomes more personalized, thanks to the genome map.

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