UCSF's new drug-gene test could determine if medication is right for you

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Thursday, May 11, 2023
New UCSF drug-gene test could help find right medication for you
A new form of drug-gene testing by UCSF could help determine how a patient's body will respond to specific medications and dosages.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The way patients are prescribed medicine could soon be a lot more precise. A new form of testing by UCSF could help determine how a patient's body will respond to specific medications and dosages.

Christine Von Raesfeld has suffered from a multitude of health issues her entire life.

Doctors experimented with different medications, but some of those had devastating effects on her body.

"I have toxic encephalopathy, which is brain damage from a medication, which is permanent and irreversible," she said, "I also lost some of my night vision to another medication."

The adverse reactions had to do with the way her body metabolizes some medications, different from how another person's body may respond.

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"Every individual is different from each other, and this individuality is makes us where we are," said Dr. Aleksandar Rajkovic, UCSF's Chief Genomic Officer, "It also makes us different in how we respond to medications."

Rajkovic and Dr. Bani Tamraz have helped lead the charge to bring in a way for UCSF doctors and patients to better understand how their bodies will respond to medication.

It's called pharmacogenomics.

Von Raesfield who has not been treated at UCSF, first got the testing in a research program and says it's been a game changer.

"Pharmacogenomics has changed my life, it has changed my care, my treatments," she said, "It's really given me a better understanding of drugs that I take and how I metabolize them."

Right now, doctors use factors like age, weight, kidney and liver function to make a decision about treatment.

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Recently, scientists developed an AI tool that takes a 3D image of a person's face and calculates their biological age.

Now, they can use the genetic information from a blood draw to help determine what medication works best for patients based on genetic markers and determine and adjust the dosage to what your body needs.

"Up until now, we haven't been looking at genetics," Dr. Tamraz said, "Now we are adding it in."

UCSF is the first hospital in California to use this testing and only one of a few hospitals nationwide.

The UCSF doctors say that expanding this could improve or even save countless lives.

"About 100,000 individuals die from adverse reactions to medications," Rajkovic said.

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"The test is able to look at 15 different genes to see how they react with a growing list of more than 50 different drugs like antidepressants and pain medications.

Tamraz has testified to state lawmakers, pushing for the testing to be available to all race groups and demographics.

Price per each gene tested can vary between $60 and $300.

UCSF says insurance generally covers the cost with some exceptions and that other than co-pays, its patients should not get a bill from them.

Von Raesfield hopes the benefits she's received can be extended to all.

"We have to watch science and technology evolve and really find how it can work for us," she said, "So pharmacogenomics to me is one of those tests that it should be given to everybody."

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