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What is Pharmacogenomics? Dr. Dunnenberger and a Patient Break it Down

Henry “Mark” Dunnenberger, PharmD, Senior Clinical Specialist Pharmacogenomics, Mark R. Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine, believes that personalized or precision medicine is the “next generation” of medicine, an approach that will not only treat disease but also predict and potentially prevent many diseases too.  His field within personalized medicine, pharmacogenomics, stands to make a revolutionary impact on patient treatment and outcomes. 

Patient Debbie Kerr knows the benefits of personalized medicine and describes her experience taking the pharmacogenomics test. Debbie says that with any kind of diagnosis, she wants to make sure she has the right medication, at the right dose, at the right time.


To help us further define and understand pharmacogenmocis, Dr. Dunnenberger describes its impact now and in the future, and tells us why working in this revolutionary field is so rewarding:

What is pharmacogenomics?  
Pharmacogenomics is the study of how your DNA affects your response to medications.  It’s because of small differences in DNA that two patients can receive the same medication at the same dose for the same indication and still have different responses.  The medication may work well for one patient, while the other patient may receive no benefit or experience side effects.  By analyzing genetic variation, we can predict who is more likely to experience these undesirable outcomes.

How can it help patients? How does it change treatment for diseases like cancer?
If we know a patient’s genotype when a medication is prescribed to them, we are able to make a more informed decision to treat patients with the conventional dose, alter the dose or chose a different medication all together altogether.  These actions will reduce the risk that a patient will experience a negative drug-related outcome. This all leads to safer, more effective treatment for each individual.  It can be paraphrased as: The right drug, at the right dose, for the right patient, the first time.

What is the role of pharmacogenomics in the NorthShore Center for Personalized Medicine?
Personalized medicine is the next step in the evolution of medicine.  It can be thought of as the tailoring of medical treatment to the individual characteristics, needs and preferences of a patient during all stages of care, from prevention and diagnosis, to treatment and follow-up.  NorthShore is instituting personalized medicine through the Center for Personalized Medicine.  This center brings together clinical, research and bioinformatics genomics experts from across the health system.  Pharmacogenomics is a piece of the Center and one of the first to launch. (NorthShore’s pharmacogenomics clinic launched March 2015.)

What’s next for pharmacogenomics? What developments do you see in the near future?
Pharmacogenomics is advancing in numerous ways.  First, we are learning more about differences in DNA, known as variants, which have an effect on drug therapy.  This will increase the number of drug/gene pairs we can implement in clinical care.  Second, we are figuring out which patient populations will benefit the most from pharmacogenomics-based interventions.  Third, we are discovering the best ways to deliver pharmacogenomics data to all practitioners.  Soon we will be increasing the number of genes we preemptively screen from 14 to 231.

What do you hope you’ll be able to do in the future?
Travel to space … but really, in the future, I hope every patient at NorthShore will have their individual pharmacogenomics data in their health record before they even need it. I hope we will have developed a system that can make the data actionable to improve their care when they need it.

What brought you to this field?
I am drawn to this field because of the challenges it presents and potential rewards when those challenges are conquered.  By working in the field of pharmacogenomics, I can help build a system that could impact the care of every patient that walks through the doors of NorthShore.  I cannot think of a more rewarding job.

What do you find most rewarding about your work at the NorthShore Center for Personalized Medicine? 
It’s a tie between working with some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met and having them broaden my horizons every day, and helping improve the care of the patients at NorthShore.

Find out more at the NorthShore Center for Personalized Medicine