Each year, the UK National Health Service (NHS) spends GBP 460 million to treat 250.000 patients who are admitted to hospital suffering adverse reactions to prescribed medication. These reactions can vary in severity, from dizziness and nausea to heart palpitations or unconsciousness.
A test to identify people likely to react badly to prescribed medication such as anti-depressants or drugs to lower cholesterol could enable doctors to tailor dosages and drugs to the individual needs of each patient.
The device undergoing trials is the Single Nucleotide Polymorphism Doctor, or SNP Dr - pronounced "snip doctor". It is a portable technology that gives fast accurate spot test results for specific DNA sequences that indicate how we are likely to respond to certain drugs.
The SNP Dr works by analysing genetic variations found in DNA called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs). SNPs are the parts of human DNA that make us all respond differently to disease, bacteria, viruses, toxins or medication.
In particular, researchers are exploring how the SNP Dr might detect genetic sequences linked with metabolism. A slow metabolism can make drugs stay in the body longer, causing adverse side effects, while a fast metabolism can process medication too quickly for it to have any effect.
The SNP Dr works by analysing the DNA in saliva or cheek swab samples, which are placed in a cartridge and exposed to the silicon chip sensors inside the device. A copy of the fast or slow metabolic SNPs is contained in the chip. If they detect a match, a message is displayed on the SNP Dr's console. The doctor can then assess their patient in the GP surgery, without a lengthy and costly laboratory analysis, and prescribe dosages and treatments accordingly.
Professor Chris Toumazou FRS, principal investigator at Imperial, stated: "Nothing can replace the expert advice your GP gives you. However, the SNP Dr could provide another layer in the treatment process that could help GPs to personalise treatments according to the genetic requirements of each patient."
Dr. Leila Shepherd, Chief Technology Officer of DNA Electronics, added that the introduction of the SNP Dr into the GP surgery could also pave the way for new types of drugs to reach patients in the future. She stated: "At the moment, some cancer fighting drugs are deemed uneconomical because they only work for a certain subset of patients. If doctors had a method of screening patients to see whether these drugs work, then suddenly these therapies would be more cost-effective to use."
The GBP 1,2 million project is part-funded by the Government's Technology and Strategy Board. The partnership will see Imperial and DNA Electronics providing the scientific and product development team with Pfizer providing expertise on SNPs, clinical samples, pharmaceutical sector knowledge and feedback as a potential end user of the product.
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 13.000 students and 6000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve health in the United Kingdom and globally, tackle climate change and develop clean and sustainable sources of energy.