Have you ever wondered why some medications work differently in different people? Two people with the same condition may require different methods of treatment. This is a question that researchers have been asking for many years. Until recently researchers have been looking at ways to treat specific diseases. As it turns most of the diseases that we are aware of today are not just one disease but can be classified as several diseases. They may show the same symptoms and maybe even progress the same way but there may be several different causes or even abnormalities which may lead to the same diagnosis. This means that all diseases are rare diseases and require different treatment.
It is empirical to state that every person is different and will respond to medications differently. We are not all made the same and this is due to our genetic makeup. For example, many individuals who suffer from auto inflammatory diseases will try several different drugs based on trial and error before finding the drug which works best to treat their disease. So if every disease is a rare disease and every individual is different, then it would be logical to devise a more personal way to treat the individual versus the symptoms of a broad category of the disease. This can be done using biomarkers to help personalize medicine towards the individual.
A biomarker is any substance within the body which can be detected and used to measure a person’s state of health. Biomarkers can be cells, enzymes, hormones, genes or any molecule in the body. An example would be to detect and measure cholesterol levels in the blood using the biomarkers LDL and HDL. So if biomarkers are already being used, what is the big hype? Well what if it was possible to test specific biomarkers to determine the best choice of drug to use for a specific individual with a specific disease? This is possible using the study of pharmacogenetic biomarkers.
Pharmacogenetics is the study of genetics in drug response. This is based on how an individual’s genetic differences affect drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, elimination and target to receptor response. At the moment, most drugs on the market are being molecularly targeted which may potentially only benefit certain individuals. Researchers are now trying to find pharmacogenetic biomarkers that will target endpoints to evaluate drug effectiveness. The use of pharmacogenetic biomarkers will not only help in early diagnosis and disease prevention but also in drug target identification and drug response. The benefits will be safer more efficient drug development, less side effects, an increase in the speed of drug approval, as well as drugs that treat the individuals instead of the symptoms.
Physicians hope to soon use biomarkers to plan treatment strategies to specifically treat each patient individually. This would alleviate the need to try several different drugs in order to find an effective one. Physicians will also be able to determine which group of individuals might get serious side effects for a drug without having to put the patient through unnecessary distress. Personalized medical research has finally arrived, and the answer was within us all along; “DNA.”