Researchers have used patients' genes to determine how much of a potentially dangerous blood-thinning medication they should get -- bringing the era of personalized medicine a giant step closer.
Personalized medicine, where a patient gets a diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to his or her genetic profile, has been a promise since the human genome was first sequenced five years ago.
Doctors hope that one day a patient's entire genetic profile will be placed on a single chip and that medications will be tailored based on that data for the rest of their lives.
Over the last few years, two cancer drugs -- first Gleevec and then Iressa -- have been shown to work better for people with certain genetic profiles. But the most recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine marks the first time the approach has worked for determining drug dosage.
The blood-thinning drug warfarin (sold as Coumadin) is notoriously hard to prescribe. A bit too much can cause internal bleeding. Too low a dose can leave patients at risk for blood clots.
Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle and Washington University in St. Louis said they had found a way to use patients' genes to determine whether to start them on a high, medium or low dose of the drug.
The team said more work would have to be done before doctors could use their findings to routinely calibrate warfarin doses for patients.
But given the widespread use of the drug, their paper was seen as a major advance in this new field, known as pharmacogenetics.