What is Pharmacogenomics?

Drug-gene testing is also known as pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics, meaning “the study of the uses and effects of medications” from the word “pharmacology” and “the study of genes and their functions” from the word “genomics.” At their core, all of these terms characterize the study of how your genes affect the way your body responds to medications. The body has thousands of genes that it inherits from its parents, and these genes are responsible for determining an individual’s characteristics such as blood type and eye color. In addition, some genes are responsible for how the body processes drugs and medications. To determine whether there are any changes in these genes that could affect a patient’s chance for success or cause more health complications, a patient may choose to undergo pharmacogenomic tests.

What Does Pharmacogenomic Testing Do?

The purpose of undergoing pharmacogenomic testing is to find out if a specific medication is right for someone. With a small saliva or blood sample, pharmacogenomic testing can help determine what the best dose of medication is as well as whether a medication could be beneficial or detrimental to the patient’s health. The specific test would only need to be conducted once as the body’s genetic makeup does not change. However, a patient may need additional pharmacogenomic tests if they take another drug. In other words, every medication has its own specific pharmacogenomics test. For this reason, it is important for patients to keep documentation of all test results and share them with their physicians.

The need for pharmacogenomic testing is determined on a case-by-case basis. If someone undergoes a pharmacogenomic test and the test results reveal that that individual might have a bad reaction the medication, there is a high chance that his or her family members would also have a negative experience. Therefore, patients are advised to also share their results with family members, and their healthcare provider may make recommendations for family members who should consider testing as well.

Limitations of Pharmacogenomic Tests

There are several limitations to pharmacogenomic tests, including the lack of tests for aspirin and other over-the-counter pain relievers. By the same token, pharmacogenomic tests are not available for all medications. Since tests are available only for certain drugs, a patient’s healthcare provider can determine whether he or she needs to undergo pharmacogenomic testing prior to starting treatment for a specific health condition. Finally, one single pharmacogenomic test cannot predict how a patient will react to every medication. In other words, patients who are taking multiple medications will be required to take multiple pharmacogenomic tests.

Testing Costs and Services

The cost of pharmacogenomic tests will vary depending on which test a patient’s provider orders as well as the patient’s health insurance coverage. Patients should keep in mind that some insurance companies will cover the full cost of testing, depending on the reasons for testing and the health insurance policy. Patients who are unsure or who have concerns regarding payment should contact their insurance providers prior to testing.

Combining the science of pharmacology, or drugs, with the study of genes, or genomics, in order to establish effective ways to use medications depending on each individual’s genetic makeup, pharmacogenomics is the field of study about the effect of genes on a patient’s response to medications.

See also: 5 TED Talks About Genetics