Today, 85% of the children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia are cured of the disease. The drug used for the treatment can have severe side effects, depending on the genetic makeup of the patient. Included among those drugs is a thiopurine agent, 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP). In some cases, this agent destroyed healthy bone marrow as well as cancer cells, but researchers could not explain why it happened in some cases and not others.
Some key discoveries made at the Mayo clinic provided insight into the influence genes have on how an individual responds to a drug and so began the era of Pharmacogenomic' medicine. The pathbreaking Mayo Clinic research into pharmacogenomics not only explained this phenomenon, it also led to the development of thiopurine prescriptions that are tailored to the genetic makeup of an individual child - a standard approach at Mayo since 1991. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel recently approved it as the first drug in history to include pharmacogenomic instructions on its label. Mayo clinic was one of the founding centers in this field.
Prior to the completion of the federally-funded Human Genome Project in 2001, the field was usually referred to as "pharmacogenetics"a word coined in the 1950s. The term "pharmacogenomics" reflects the new knowledge base created by the Human Genome Project. The project deciphered the gene sequences of the genome - the entire human genetic complement that contains an estimated 35,000 genes.
Pharmacogenomics represents a radical advance in medical history. In the past, most drugs were designed to work on the population level rather than being targeted for the individual patient. By reversing that trend, pharmacogenomics helps to refine the focus of treatment and makes drugs more effective and less toxic.
In one approach, researchers use computers to gain access to the sequence of genes that encode proteins that might influence drug...