Opioids: Stanford researchers find personalized approach a better way to prescribe painkillers

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, December 24, 2019
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Stanford researchers have found studying a patient's genes can provide a far more effective way to prescribe painkillers.

Why do some people get addicted to opioid painkillers and others don't?

The answer could help get the right medications to the right people. California researchers have developed a new personalized approach to prescribing.

Stanford School of Medicine researchers have developed an innovative program called the Humanwide Project.

Through wearable technology, genetics, and other tools, it aims to personalize care and take the mystery out of how we work.

Debbie Spaizman can't get enough of her prize roses. But her green thumb was nearly sidelined by a health concern. Surgery was needed, but she hesitated due to how she reacted to pain medication.

"My head would spin," Spaizman said. "I really was foggy, and I had itching all over my body. But I had no pain relief at all. I thought twice about having the surgery."

To get answers, Spaizman enrolled in the Humanwide Project at Stanford.

The study flips the model on healthcare by personalizing treatment.

That includes a deep dive into pharmacogenetics.

Dr. Megan Mahoney, clinical professor of medicine at Stanford said: "Pharmacogenomics specifically tests for genes that look at the rate in which we metabolize drugs. It can determine the dosing of medications and also predict any side effects."

Meaning our genes can play a big role in how we respond to medicine.

And so, with a quick swab of the cheek, Spaizman finally got answers.

"The result of the test showed that I'm a slow metabolizer. Drugs will stay in my system longer than they will for someone else," said Spaizman.

With that, a plan started to come together for Spaizman.

"We were able to identify the class of opioids that would work for her based on her pharmacogenomic makeup and then she was able to go through with the surgery," Mahoney said.

Spaizman said, "It was life changing for me."

And she's not the only one.

"Twenty-five percent of patients had a change in their dose of medication based on the pharmacogenomics test," Mahoney said.

It's an approach that Spaizman called "Absolutely game changer."

Stanford is not the only one paying attention to pharmacogenetics.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is making a big push to personalize medicine for its vets. The program will enroll those with a history of cancer but will also inform doctors how patients will metabolize other medicines they need.