Virginia Hospital Uses Patients' DNA to Customize Treatment

A Virginia hospital is using genetic testing to customize patients’ medication and minimize the side effects of surgery.

It’s difficult to know how someone will respond to prescription medications or anesthesia, but doctors are able to use a patient’s DNA to determine which drugs will be the most effective.

In August, Catherine Hanson, an English teacher at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I believe every emotion possible goes through your mind in about 30 seconds,” she said. “You go from disbelief to denial, anger. Then you develop some courage and think, ‘OK, I can do this.’ And then it starts all over again.”

Her surgeon, Dr. Kirsten Edmiston, recommended she undergo genetic testing.

“Different patients need a lot of different levels of pain medicines,” she said. “So some people would need very little pain medicine and some people would need a lot of pain medicine.”

Finding the right combination is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, so Inova Fair Oaks Hospital launched a pilot program called MediMap, which uses a patient’s unique DNA to navigate their course of treatment.

The test analyzes 25 genes to see how they’ll respond to 145 different medications, predicting which drugs will work best for you, which ones to avoid and exactly what the dosage should be.

“We're making sure that we are able to control their pain while minimizing the side effects,” Edmiston said.

The results of a 20-second cheek swab are available within seven-to-10 days.

It gave Hanson comfort during one of the most difficult moments of her life.

“It went very smoothly, especially with the recovery from anesthesia,” she said. “I had no nauseousness. If all continues well, then I’m already on my path to a full recovery.”

She said she’s doing great and will continue to see her doctors once a year for checkups.

The MediMap pilot program ends in December. The hospital hopes to expand the program next year.

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