How is pharmacogenomics used today?

Tests are now available that can help predict whether people with cancer or other diseases are likely to have good responses — or bad reactions — to certain medications.

One such test looks at a group of enzymes that are responsible for breaking down and eliminating more than 30 types of medications, including antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs and heart medications.

Some people, because of their genetic makeup, aren't able to break down these medications fast enough. The medications can then build up in the body and cause severe side effects. Conversely, some people break down these medications too quickly — before they have a chance to work.

Genetic testing can identify people with these genetic variations so that their doctors can make more-informed prescribing decisions, thus increasing the likelihood of treatment success and minimizing the risk of side effects.

The future of pharmacogenomics

Although pharmacogenomics has much promise, it's still in its early stages. Millions of genetic variations exist, and identifying them could take many years. Research is under way, however, and pharmacogenomics may someday be part of routine medical care.

July 14, 2012 See more In-depth