Taking Measure of Cancer Drugs

Gene screen gauges patient response to treatment, researchers say

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THURSDAY, Aug. 19, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A new screening technique to search for genes that change patients' response to cancer drugs and other medications has been developed by scientists at Washington University Medical Center.

"This isn't the answer to everything in terms of finding these links, but it's an important breakthrough," senior investigator Howard L. McLeod, an associate professor of medicine, genetics and of molecular biology and pharmacology, said in a prepared statement.

"This approach is very likely to allow us to find links between pharmaceuticals and genes that we never would have been able to anticipate," McLeod said.

In their initial test, McLeod and his team found potential connections between two chemotherapy drugs and two regions of human DNA that each contain about 100 genes. The results were published in the Aug. 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An individual's genes can dramatically influence the effectiveness of drugs. Genetic differences between people can mean a medication is effective in one person and of no benefit to another. Similarly, a drug that's a lifesaver for one person can turn into a dangerous toxin in another patient.

Being able to screen genes would enable doctors to recommend low chemotherapy doses in cancer patients whose cells are particularly sensitive or to use special or added medications in patients with particularly resistant cells.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about cancer treatments.

SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine, news release, August 2004

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