A Step Toward Personalized Asthma Treatment, Gene Variant Linked to Drug Response

Inhaled corticosteroids are used by millions of asthma patients every day. However, as with all treatments to control asthma, there is marked patient-to-patient variability in the response to treatment. New research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has identified a genetic variant associated with the response to inhaled corticosteroids [1]. Investigators have found that asthma patients who have two copies of a specific gene variant responded only one-third as well to steroid inhalers as those with two copies of the regular gene.

Asthmatic using an inhaler

Repurposing Existing Medicines for New Indications

Researchers have developed an innovative way to predict new uses for existing medicines. Using computers and genomic information, scientists at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, have established a method to identify FDA-approved drugs that may work against diseases they weren’t originally designed to combat. New research published in two articles in the August 17th online issue of Science Translational Medicine highlights two such repurposed drugs that may be used to treat inflammatory bowel disease and lung cancer [1-2].

Repurposing drugs

Man’s Best Friend: a Canine Biosensor for Cancer?

Man’s best friend may someday turn out to be a physician’s tool for the detection of several types of cancer.

NBC Nightly News aired an intriguing story last night about dogs who have the ability to detect ovarian cancer [1]. The story referenced a new study published in the European Respiratory Journal that focused on canine scent detection for the diagnosis of lung cancer [2].

Sun Exposure, Vitamin D Can Affect Breakdown of Medicines

Genetic variation has been though to be responsible for the differences between people to metabolize certain drugs. The results of a recent study from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden suggest that it may be even more complicated. Swedish reserchers have found that the body’s ability to break down medicines may be closely related to sunlight exposure and vitamin D, and thus may vary with the seasons. The study, published in the journal Drug Metabolism & Disposition, offers a completely new model to explain individual differences in the effects of drugs [1].

Sunlight can influence the breakdown of medicines in the body

The Strategic Plan: An Interview with NHGRI Director Eric Green

In January, we reported on the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) Vision to Move Genomic Medicine from Base Pairs to Bedside. Written by Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the NHGRI, Mark Guyer, Ph.D., Director of the Division of Extramural Research and Acting Deputy Director of the NHGRI, and others at the NHGRI, the plan maps the next steps the field of genomic research must take to discover medical secrets hidden within the human genome and transfer them to physicians and patients [1].

Interestingly, the strategic plan really isn’t a strategic plan but a list of issues to be addressed. And on this note, Daniel MacArthur, a genomics researcher and author of Wired’s Genetic Future, found the NHGRI document frustrating to read [2]:

… this is an impressive, worthwhile and highly readable piece of work, but one that ultimately feels unfinished. As research dollars begin to get tighter, there is an urgent need for anĀ actual strategic plan for building the resources and tools required to make genomic medicine a reality within a realistic budget.

In other words: a specific NHGRI funding plan to overcome the issues. This could prove difficult in the current U.S. fiscal environment. Even though President Obama has resisted cuts to biomedical research funding in his 2012 budget proposal, the outlook isn’t bright. Decreasing NIH funding for short-range budget goals will disrupt five-year-long longitudinal studies make it impossible to start new research [3]. Moreover, it will hurt U.S. standing as the world leader in biomedical advances.