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Web Exclusives: Chemistry

Understanding Gene-Drug Interactions
Rahkendra Ice
Posted April 19, 2012

Russ Altman
Russ Altman, computational biologist at Stanford University

Your genes determine a lot about how you look—and they also play a key role in how your body responds to medicines. The study of how genetic variation impacts drug response is called pharmacogenomics.

Russ Altman, a computational biologist and professor at Stanford University, is particularly interested in using computing technology to advance pharmacogenomics studies.

"With computers, we can take data from lots of different places—molecules, cells, patients—and we can mix it all up to try to understand the big picture," he says. The big picture includes how human genetic variation influences not just a drug's intended effect, but also its interactions with other medicines and its side effects.

A few years ago, Altman and his research team conducted the first clinical assessment of an individual's entire genome. Doing so revealed genetic variations associated with disease risk and likely drug response.

Altman has since led a similar study with a family of four. He and his team located gene variants associated with blood clotting, determined the exact dosage of a medicine taken by the father to prevent blood clots and then predicted the dosage the daughter could one day need.

With whole-genome sequencing becoming more available and affordable, Altman has even had his own family's genomes partially sequenced and plans to have his full genome done soon. "This has been really fun," he says, "because now we've been exploring the results and everyone in the family has a different interest."

Learn more about Altman's research and its future applications, plus hear his advice to students considering careers in science, in this video interview.

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This page last reviewed on April 19, 2012