[ASC-media] Check before you medicate

sarah at scienceinpublic.com sarah at scienceinpublic.com
Sun May 8 23:51:40 EST 2005

An Adelaide pharmacist and student has developed software that could help slash
drug side-effects.

The software is already helping research into the side-effects of medications
used to treat cancer and other diseases. And the inventor hopes to see the
software integrated into diagnostic machines.

More than 70,000 Australians are hospitalised each year because of side-effects
from their medicine.

Predicting who will suffer from side effects when prescribing medication would
save time and money and clear the way for more personalised care.

“We know that differences in people’s genes can explain why some people
experience side effects to certain medications and others do not,” says Michael
Ward, a PhD student from the newly formed Sansom Institute, at the University of
South Australia and one of this year’s Fresh Innovators.

“Sometimes, multiple differences in many genes may be the cause. And this poses
considerable diagnostic challenges,” says Michael.

“Currently, testing for these genetic variations is costly, cumbersome and
slow,” he says.

“Identifying these multiple genetic differences quickly and cheaply holds the
promise of personalised drug treatments, enabling many distressing side effects
to be avoided.”

“This is the much-heralded era of personalised medicine.”

“My software program allows us to scan multiple genes at once. Effectively what
used to involve months of laboratory toil is now achieved at the press of a
button,” says Michael.

The software can used with existing laboratory equipment so there is no dramatic
increase in cost. It is currently being used by researchers at the Sansom
Institute to study individual susceptibility to side effects from medications
used in the treatment of cancer, mental illness, glaucoma and asthma.

“Our research is particularly being targeted at cancer treatments, where side
effects such as vomiting, nausea, and heart failure can impact drastically on
the quality of life,” says Michael.”

“If we could predict the side-effects for an individual, we could prescribe
something suited to the person – a more personalised approach to healthcare.”

The software is already being used on a case by case basis and the Sanson
Institute hopes to set up a diagnostic service using both the new software and
the growing database of information on genes linked to drug side-effects.
Michael also hopes the software will be offered to labs around the world,
allowing them to speed up their existing portfolio of tests.”

Michael’s dream is that this accelerated testing, with its reduced costs, will
become part of the routine in doctors’ rooms, and prevent thousands of hospital
admissions each year.

For more information contact Michael Ward on 08 8302 2757 / 0402 910 565 or
email michael.ward at postgrads.unisa.edu.au

Media contacts for Fresh Innovators: Niall Byrne (03) 5253 1391 and Sarah
Brooker 0413 332 489

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