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Regents push for change in genetic medicine

BY KEVIN SVEC | FEBRUARY 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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What was once confined only to science-fiction movies is now the subject of boardroom meetings.
The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, the home to the Iowa Institute of Human Genetics, plans to start a revolution in modern medicine. Today, most of the medication prescribed is based on the weight and body surface area of the patient. The institute’s goal is to promote an alternative, which will be known as personal genomic medicine.

Such medicine would cater to each patient’s specific needs. The medication prescribed would be based on the genetic makeup of a patient rather than her or his body index.

Using a genetic test, scientists would be able to evaluate each patient’s needs, allowing health-care providers to personalize each drug treatment.

The medicine will work with each individual patient based on her or his personal health risks. By personalizing the medicine, the doctors could increase the likelihood that the drug would have the best possible effect on each patient.

Richard Smith, the director of the Institute of Human Genetics, noted several advantages of genomic medicine.

“Newborns would be able to have screenings done to determine what medication would work best from the beginning,” said Smith.

According to the Jackson Laboratory website, any prescription drug now on the market only works for half of the people who take it. Antidepressants are effective for only 63 percent of those who take it. The percentage rate of effectiveness jumps to 75 percent among cancer patients. Genetic testing can change that.

Part of the process has started already. For those willing to pay, they can have their genes tested. The cost for the test is $296 through the UI Hospitals and Clinics, $256 through the institute. However, Medicare is willing to pay for $295 of the costs.

At the UIHC, the establishment is one of only two institutions in the country to implement a clinical test.

Right now, the institute is testing cardiology patients using this type of analysis. Scientists extract DNA from a sample of saliva. From there, they determine the best possible medication.

“This highlights the research and how it is translated to patients,” said Kenneth Kates, Chief Executive Officer of the UIHC.

Right now, the process is still in the first research phase. By the second phase, officials will begin more testing for different diseases. In order to get health-care providers on board, the institute will have to prove it makes a significant difference.

One of the biggest speed bumps is the limited budget. Therefore, the tests must be successful for this type of treatment to become mainstream.

“The United States population has a range of genetic backgrounds, and it is important that health-care providers can provide better, higher quality care to patients at an affordable cost,” said Debra Schwinn, the dean of the medical school.

The medicine will also benefit the UIHC.

“It would draw in patients and see us as a unique resource and improve the outcome of medicine at a personal level,” Fisher said.

When looking at the bigger picture, the alternative testing could be beneficial to a wide variety of patients.

“Personalized genomic medicine is important for all Americans,” said Ken Fisher, the UIHC chief financial officer. “The possibilities are unlimited. If you let a mind wonder, it will go a long way.”


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