Pioneering Derry research can make prescription drugs safer and ease hospital pressure

Pioneering research being carried out in Derry could make prescription drugs safer and ease pressure on health services by reducing the likelihood of inappropriate drug treatments and unnecessary admissions to hospital.
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Research underway at the Ulster University Personalised Medicine Centre at C-TRIC in Altnagelvin will enable analysis of genetic code from blood samples to ensure prescribed drugs will benefit patients.

The testing will reduce the risk of serious side effects for patients on prescription medication, those behind the project say.

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Researchers from UU and Altnagelvin believe drug-gene testing can help alleviate some of the pressures on the NHS by reducing the frequency of admissions caused by treatment side effects and repeat visits to doctors when treatments don’t work.

A researcher in the Ulster University Personalised Medicine CentreA researcher in the Ulster University Personalised Medicine Centre
A researcher in the Ulster University Personalised Medicine Centre

It is believed the safety and effectiveness of nearly one million prescriptions could be improved each year in the north with drug-gene testing.

Dr. David Gibson from UU’s Personalised Medicine Centre explained: “Our genome is unique to each of us, and it shapes our development from embryo right through to old age.

"Along with our individual life experiences and exposures to chemicals, lifestyle, diet and other factors, our genes determine what diseases we may develop and how we respond to treatment.

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“Most drug development assumes that all patients with a condition will respond in a similar way to a specific drug and they will generally receive the same first line treatment. This can be a waste of drugs and valuable time for both the patient and those treating them, where there is a limited or no response to that medication.”

Dr Guangran Guo, PhD researcher in the Ulster University, Personalised Medicine Centre.Dr Guangran Guo, PhD researcher in the Ulster University, Personalised Medicine Centre.
Dr Guangran Guo, PhD researcher in the Ulster University, Personalised Medicine Centre.
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Dr. Gibson pointed to the example of the opiate codeine, which is ineffective for many patients.

“The pain killer codeine illustrates just how variable the processing of a drug can be in the body, with only 42 per cent of patients experiencing effective pain relief.

"Others may break down the drug slowly and experience little or no pain relief and up to 2 per cent can convert codeine to morphine so quickly that it could become an overdose.

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“Armed with the knowledge of an individual patient’s drug converting genes, doctors can prescribe the drugs and doses best suited to each person.”

Neil Guckian, Chief Executive of the Western Health and Social Care Trust said the new research could lead to a reduction in pressure on front-line services.

"Sustained pressure on waiting lists and a health service stretched by the annual winter ailments have resulted in some very difficult decisions for NI’s healthcare leaders and clinicians.

"With transformation called for, Ulster University’s research in this field has the capacity to make a significant difference in primary, secondary and community care settings.

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"The ability to tailor specific treatments to those most likely to respond and divert others to alternative drugs will maximise the use of healthcare resources and help individualise patient care.

"Drug-gene testing takes a personalised approach to make better use of valuable time in clinical practice, improve patient outcomes, reduce costs and match the needs of the patient to the clinical treatment and team best equipped to care for them.

"The WHSCT fully supports this priority project that will happen in partnership with the School of Medicine based at Magee and with C-TRIC clinical research facility based at Altnagelvin Hospital. ”