December 12, 2016

Could DNA Testing Help Your Health? Personalized Medicine Is Here

A simple cheek swab could hold the key to helpful information throughout someone’s life. Your genes determine if you have your mom’s piercing blue eyes or dad’s dimples. But the secrets of DNA go more than skin deep.

shutterstock-dna-model-redAt Mission Health, personalized medicine testing looks at genetics that could affect your response to a drug, including the risks of having a bad response or a drug not working. Mission Health is among few community health systems in the nation offering this type of individualized consultation to cancer and noncancer patients.

“We review a panel of gene variations for each patient,” said Lynn Dressler, DrPH, a doctor of public health and Director of Mission Health’s Personalized Medicine Program. “If variations occur in genes that break down certain medicines, then that’s important for patients and their doctors to know.” It could mean a different dose or drug is needed, or it could confirm what the physician had planned.

For example, certain statin drugs used to lower cholesterol can cause muscle pain, leading some patients to stop taking the drug. When doctors know the gene variation exists, they could prescribe a different statin at the start and not wait for the patient to have muscle pain.

“Personalized medicine is beginning to change how we practice medicine in ways we didn’t know existed before,” said Dressler. As more drugs are prescribed and new information about drugs is discovered, personalized medicine can have an amazing impact on people’s lives, said Dressler.

Are You a Candidate for Personalized Medicine?

Currently, personalized medicine does not test for all drug responses. To determine if testing is right for you, it is important to discuss your medical history and potential benefits of drug response testing with your doctor. Your physician can refer you to the Mission Personalized Medicine Clinic to further evaluate if testing might benefit you.

If testing is done, results will be shared with your physician and include a summary interpreting the findings. Testing may help explain why you had a bad response to a drug or why a drug may not be working; it may help in selecting a drug or dose of drug that is more likely to work for you based on your genetics. The testing may simply further confirm what the physician has already planned.

The residents of western North Carolina are in a unique position to access these clinical services through a physician referral to the Personalized Medicine Clinic at the Mission Fullerton Genetics Center. In addition, the Personalized Medicine Program is conducting a small research study to understand the challenges to having this testing provided as part of your routine primary care. A grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center covers the cost of testing for this study. Patients are eligible for this study if their physician is participating and if patients meet other study requirements (at least 65 years old, on Medicare and taking multiple prescription drugs). For more information, visit or call (828) 213-1044.

Lynn Dressler, DrPH, is Director of Mission Health’s Personalized Medicine Program.