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Improving Drug Treatment by Understanding Genetic

Media release
Tuesday 27 June, 2006.

Improving Drug Treatment by Understanding Genetic Make-Up

Researchers from around the country are converging on Christchurch ( Wed. June 28) for a scientific symposium on pharmacogenomics, an emerging area of innovative health research that seeks to understand how differences in genetic makeup can affect an individual's response to drugs.

The symposium is organised by the Carney Centre for Pharmacogenomics, a University of Otago research centre based at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The Director, Associate Professor Martin Kennedy, has convened the meeting to mark the first anniversary of the opening.

By applying modern genetic methods and knowledge derived from the human genome project, this research is aimed at clarifying how certain drugs work, and how they can be more effectively used.

Speakers will address topics including the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), asthma, and mental disorders such as depression.

Associate Professor Murray Barclay and Dr Rebecca Roberts, (Christchurch School of Medicine & Health Sciences), will describe their findings on genes which influence treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

The drugs used to treat this serious illness are very good when they work, but they only work in a proportion of patients, and can make some people quite ill.

Associate Professor Barclay says "It's now very clear that some of these problems with certain drugs are due to the genetic makeup of each patient. Some will have a genetic profile that means the treatment will be safe and effective, and others will not respond, and may suffer side-effects."

"It's our goal to better define these important genetic differences, and use these to improve our treatment of IBD."

The application of genetic analysis to better understand adverse drug reactions identified by the New Zealand Pharmacovigilance Centre (University of Otago, Dunedin) will be discussed by Dr David Clark. Its extensive monitoring of drugs to identify new adverse reactions, the Intensive Medicines Monitoring Programme, is amongst the best in the world. It offers great potential for better understanding the role that genetic differences play in the adverse effects of drugs.

Modern technologies for genetic analyses will also be widely discussed. Dr Andrew Fellowes (Canterbury Health Laboratories) will describe results from a new DNA chip-based system for identifying genes that affect drug metabolism. This machine, the only one of its kind in NZ and Australia, is the first to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in clinical pharmacogenomics.

"There’s tremendous international interest in pharmacogenomics, and I intend this to be an annual meeting that will allow us to gauge our progress and explore the value of new research results in this area" says Associate Professor Kennedy.

"Although much of this work is some way from being clinically useful, wherever we see an opportunity to apply the research to improve treatment we certainly plan to do that. One of the main goals of the Carney Centre is to ensure that pharmacogenomic knowledge, whether from our own research or from overseas, is applied in a timely and appropriate fashion to benefit New Zealanders."

The Symposium will take place at the Millennium Hotel, Cathedral Square on Wednesday June 28 from 9am.


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