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February  24, 2017

Manchester's PGx Program First in Nation


Kelleen Cullison

If you heard someone on the street say “Pharmacogenomics,” your first reaction might be to say, “Gesundheit.” 

Pharmacogenomics, or PGx, might be mistaken for a sign of oncoming sickness, but one day it could be the solution for it, and MU’s Fort Wayne campus is the first in the nation to create a master's program in the field. 

PGx is the study of how prescription drugs interact with genes, and with precision medicine, healthcare providers can use genomic information to specifically tailor a patient’s drug regimen to them. “The Master's degree is cutting edge and prepares students to be well-rounded scientists or health care providers,” said Dr. Diane Calinski, director of Pharmacogenomics Operations. Calinski is responsible for developing and teaching pharmacology courses at MU’s satellite location. “I unintentionally ‘stumbled’ into PGx in some of my first laboratory experiences and found the work to be fascinating.”  

Pharmacists’ knowledge paired with the genomic course work will allow graduates of the program to use patients’ genomic information to treat them. With its accredited pharmacy program, Manchester was an ideal place to launch the new program. It trains students in laboratory techniques, bioinformatics, human genetics and pharmacology. 

The benefits of Pharmacogenomics could significantly improve the patient experience. The thousands of genes in the body decide features like the body’s eye or hair color, but they also decide how each body will react to different medications. “By allowing healthcare providers to tailor any drug regimen to a patient’s genome,” Calinski said, “patients will have fewer side effects, get the best drug at the onset of treatment and can hopefully become healthy much faster.” 

There is also the possibility of finding new uses for “failed drugs”—drugs not approved by the FDA because they didn’t benefit the specific group of patients being tested. By determining patient genomes with precision care, a link can be established between the genotype and drug efficacy, the maximum response that can be received from a dosage of medicine. With this link, these “failed” drugs could be tailored to specific patients whose genes say they’ll benefit from them. 

Students who graduate with the degree will be prepared to work for PGx companies, for pharmaceutical companies or as medical liaisons for said companies in research and in the healthcare field at large. “Our graduates will be a driving force for pushing medicine into the future,” Calinski said. 

Students already employed in research and healthcare fields will benefit from the new training. “These working students will see growth in their current jobs and enhancement of patient care,” Calinski said. 

Pharmacogenomics is a relatively new field, and therefore is still developing. The study’s current uses are limited, but new approaches using the developing methods are being explored in clinical trials. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, PGx has the potential to develop tailored drugs to treat conditions like heart disease, HIV/AIDS, asthma and even cancer.  

With a small sample of blood or saliva, a pharmacogenomics test can determine the type of medicine to take, the dosage and the possible side effects the medicine might have on the specific body. “The laboratory looks for changes or variants in one or more genes that can affect your response to certain medications,” says the Mayo Research Clinic of Individualized Medicine.  

The new field is faced with several current limitations; the tests aren’t available for all treatments yet. Furthermore, it may take more than one test to determine how one patient will respond to all the medicines that can be tested for, which would be costly over time. Lastly, pharmacogenomics hasn’t extended to over the counter medicines such as aspirin yet. 

Manchester University is taking the first step in overcoming these shortcomings by producing masters in the PGx field. It’s just the beginning of growth for the fairly new satellite location. “We think the PGx program is just the beginning of great things to come to the Ft. Wayne campus,” Calinski said.