CRH collaborates with SAHMRI on ‘personalised medicine’ research

Professor Julio Licinio with Associate Professor Pascale Dettwiller and Professor Tim Carey
Professor Julio Licinio with Associate Professor Pascale Dettwiller and Professor Tim Carey

In April 2016 staff from the Centre for Remote Health (CRH) hosted Professor Julio Licinio from the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) to discuss the development of an important new research initiative.

Julio is Head of the Mind and Brain Theme at SAHMRI and is also the Strategic Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at Flinders University. One of Julio’s research interests is in the area of pharmacogenetics (personalised medicine). He is part of an international research group that has reported significant variations in the extent to which different population groups metabolise different medications. The different metabolism rates are due to natural variations (epigenetics) of particular liver enzymes which are essential in medication breakdown.

The practical implications of this research are that the dosing guidelines we currently have for the medications that are routinely prescribed may be completely inappropriate for some people. Consequently, some people are receiving too little medication and not gaining any benefit from it while other people are receiving too much medication and are experiencing adverse effects and even toxicity from the drugs. The main point of Julio’s research interest in this area is to ensure that each patient receives the right dose of the right drug at the right time.

This research is important for underserved communities where people do not have the resources or the availability to continue visiting their medical professional until the right dose is achieved. It is particularly important for people in rural and remote communities that the right dose is given the first time because access to health services is so problematic. Crucially, very little is known about the appropriate dosing of medications for Indigenous Australians and investigations into this issue are scarce. The aim of the research being developed by Julio and the CRH Team would be to correct this situation that so that Indigenous Australians could be confident they were receiving the right amount of medication for their conditions.

Julio met with Professor Tim Carey, Associate Professor Sue Lenthall, Associate Professor Pascale Dettwiller, Ms Kath Martin and Mr Toby Speare from the Centre for Remote Health to discuss this research. The CRH team and Julio also met with people from Primary Health, Menzies, and Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) to present these ideas to them. The response from remote area nurses and Aboriginal Health Practitioners (AHPs) was very positive. It is clear that community engagement will be an essential aspect of developing this work and it was recommended by the AHPs that we make contact with the Ngangkaris from the NPY Women’s Council to seek their guidance on how best to proceed.

This is a tremendously exciting project to be involved in and a privilege to think we might be able to contribute to closing the gap on the disparity in health outcomes through the novel approach of pharmacogenetic research and finding the right dose of medication for the right person at the right time.

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Centre for Remote Health (CRH)