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Improved Drug Treatment Aim of New Centre

Media Release
Wednesday May 25, 2005

Improved Drug Treatment Aim of New Pharmacogenomics Centre

Every day thousands of doses of medication are given to patients in hospitals and medical centres throughout the country. However, clinicians are only too aware there are often unexpected adverse side effects on patients.

One of the reasons for bad reactions to drugs is known to be the genetic make-up of individual patients, but it is still not clear how best to apply genetic knowledge to make drug treatment safer and more effective.

The new Carney Centre for Pharmacogenomics at the University of Otago’s Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences will shed new light on these metabolic interactions between genes and drugs, improve treatment, and avoid negative side effects.

The Centre is to be officially opened by the University of Otago Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Skegg, on Thursday May 26 at the Chateau on the Park in Christchurch at 5pm.

“I’m delighted to launch the Carney Centre for Pharmacogenomics, which has been made possible by the generosity of the Jim and Mary Carney Charitable Trust, and which builds on the current research strength in pharmacogenomics in Christchurch,” says Professor Skegg.

“The Centre will lead the University’s research in this area for the clinical benefit of all New Zealanders by improving the accurate application of a range of medications for conditions such as depression, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and heart disease.”

The Centre is a project of the University of Otago’s “Leading Thinkers” advancement initiative. “Leading Thinkers” has attracted Government funds, under the “Partnerships for Excellence” framework, to match the gift of the Whangarei-based Carney Trust.

“The Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ proposal just stood out,” says Mrs Mary Carney.
“I’m so pleased that our first grant can go to health research to improve medical treatment for New Zealanders.”

The Director of the Centre is Associate Professor Martin Kennedy, who heads the Gene Structure and Function Laboratory at the School, and is coordinator of the University Area of Research Strength, ‘Pharmacogenetics and Pharmacogenomics’.

Other clinical colleagues collaborating with the Centre are Professor Evan Begg (Clinical Pharmacology), Professor Peter Joyce (Psychological Medicine), Dr Murray Barclay (Gastroenterology), and Dunedin-based Dr David Clark (Pharmacology) and Professor Robin Taylor (Respiratory research). Additionally, Dr Rebecca Roberts is a full-time pharmacogenomics research fellow in the new Centre.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to further our research into genetic influences on treatment of disease. It’s a significant boost for our collaborative research effort, which draws on the combined strengths of basic, clinical, and applied research across the University campuses," says Associate Professor Kennedy.

Other than expanding scientific knowledge in this relatively new area, Associate Professor Kennedy says the Centre will be working towards genetic tests that enable clinicians to establish if a patient is vulnerable to overdose or adverse reactions to particular medications. Already some leukaemia patients are given a test in Christchurch to make sure they do not have a gene, which produces an adverse reaction to certain drugs.

Over the next five years the Carney Centre for Pharmacogenomics will draw together the University of Otago’s research capacity in this innovative area, and disseminate information throughout the health system to improve clinical practice. An Advisory Board will review progress on an annual basis in terms of research output.

The opening will be followed by the University of Otago Alumni function in the Great Hall at the Chateau on the Park.


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