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DNA testing and 'tailor' medicines the future

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2012

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DNA tests are being used to offer tailored medicine to patients at North Shore Hospital.

Waitemata District Health Board cardiologist Patrick Gladding is leading a genetic analysis laboratory at the hospital in a shift to more personalised treatment.

The lab will be one of the first in the country, alongside Canterbury DHB, to offer this type of service.

Dr Gladding is the founder of Theranostics, a private DNA testing laboratory available to clients both here and abroad.The same laboratory will soon be equipped to service hospital patients at a fraction of the current cost.

Tests range between $135 to $195 each but Dr Gladding says the cost is coming down.

It is hoped the tests will soon be available for around $30.

Independent reviews will determine whether it will become a permanent fixture at the hospital

Roughly one-third of people do not respond to their medication, Dr Gladding says as personal characteristics and environmental factors can be inhibitors.

But a simple two hour DNA test can determine whether certain medications will work on a patient, he says.

"A simple analogy is how Amazon send people personalised recommendations of books they may be interested in.

"We do a similar thing using peoples' genetic information."

The tests will cut costs, wastage, time and unnecessary harm from side effects and delays in treatment, Dr Gladding says.

Existing practice is flawed

by doctors treating patients as though they are all the same, he says.

"There is a blockbuster culture to treat everybody with the same doses of the latest and greatest drugs, despite them only working on a minority."

Blood thinning medication clopidogrel is a prime example as it is the "go to" drug for anyone who has had a coronary stent.

He says some people carry a gene that makes them "non-responders" to clopidogrel.

A quick saliva or blood test can identify if the gene is present thereby preventing recurring illness and the need for more surgery.

Some resistance to DNA testing has come as questions over the security of peoples' genetic information are raised.

But Dr Gladding says the information will be stored securely and anonymously.

It will only be available for doctors to carry out crucial care for that patient.

Some clinicians are against it as it undermines traditional practice and could raise public doubt in prescribed medication.

Despite this Dr Gladding says genetically tailored treatment is the future of medicine.

"Some people believe my way of thinking is too futuristic, but my interest is in improving healthcare.

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"If New Zealand wants to be competitive we have to be willing to take risks," he says.

The lab at North Shore Hospital is equipped with two testing machines that will be added to as additional funding is secured. East Coast Bays Rotary Club held a charity golf day this month to raise money for the North Shore Hospital Foundation.

Send your thoughts to maryke.penman@fairfax media.co.nz

- North Shore Times

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