A Closer Look at Genetics and Medicine

by Austin Arnold    This semester, an exciting new course at Ohio Northern University is being offered for the first time that very well might change the way at how we look at drug medications in the near future, by observing our own genetic makeup.
      The course titled “Personal Genome Evalutation,” has students taking an in-depth look at how genetics relate to medical drugs. The pharmacogenetics (the general study of the different genes that determine drug behavior) course is centered around a blog established by Bluffton resident and professor David Kisor, who is also the Chair of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences at ONU.  The blog specifically analyzes Kisor’s DNA information, which reveals what health conditions he may have increased and decreased risks of getting. This detailed information was gathered from a cheek swab sample Kisor provided and sent into a professional company. There are several companies available to the public that will analyze DNA samples for a fee and it is a growing trend. Kisor sent his DNA in to be the example for the course and astonishingly he received no less than 950,000 pieces of information. Each piece of information is measured by what is called a SNP, which is a variant chemical in one’s DNA makeup. By studying Kisor’s genetic information, the students can begin to understand what medications may be good or bad for their professor, or model patient, if you will.
      The course was born out of the information provided by the Human Genome Project, which started in the 1990’s and officially ended in 2003. However, it took a long time to decipher all of the knowledge that was revealed with the project, taking close to ten years to have a good enough understanding of genetics to teach a course such as this.
      “So much information was revealed back then that it took a long time for the learning curve to catch up to technology,” Kisor said.
      The course is meant to introduce everybody to the idea of how genetics can influence our medical care. 
      “Most healthcare providers did not have the kind of genetics training in school that is required to understand some of this information. Most of us had training in genetics along the inherited disease line as opposed to molecular genetics,” Kisor said.
      In attempting to look at the subject in broad terms, there are three main focal points of the class: disease risk, drug sensitivity and disease carrier status. From Kisor’s and other faculty members’ standpoint, what got them interested in teaching the subject was the drug sensitivity.
      “We’re connecting the genetics to kinetics. We’re teaching that there is a genetic basis for why some people handle a drug differently,” Kisor said. “We know right now that there are certain genetic characteristics that will allow some drugs to work and some drugs to not work. We also know that there are some genetic characteristics that will tell us whether not a drug may cause an adverse event in an individual. We’ll get to a point where we can pick a drug that should have a high probability of success right off the bat.”

See the full story in The Bluffton News