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In a study published on September 2nd in HealthDay News the question of why some people are more likely to become addicted to opioid painkillers (like morphine, codeine or oxycodone) has now been partially unraveled by the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.

For the study, Geisinger Health System researchers interviewed and analyzed DNA from 705 patients with back pain who were prescribed some kind of opioid painkillers for more than 90 days.

Geisinger Health System researchers found that the group most vulnerable to addiction has four main risk factors in common: age (being younger than 65); a history of depression; prior drug abuse; and using psychiatric medications. Painkiller addiction rates among patients with these factors are as high as 26 percent.

The researchers also looked at a gene located at chromosome 15 that had been linked with alcohol, cocaine and nicotine addiction. This study indicates that genetic mutations on a gene cluster on chromosome 15 may also be associated with opioid addiction.

According to Joseph Boscarino, an epidemiologist and a senior investigator at Geising’s Center for Health Research, “these findings suggest that patients with pre-existing risk factors are more likely to become addicted to painkillers, providing the foundation for further clinical evaluation.”  He Added, “by assessing patients in chronic pain for these risk factors before prescribing painkillers, doctors will be better able to treat their patients’ pain without the potential for future drug addiction.”

The non-profit X Prize Foundation and private firm Knome are auctioning a whole genome sequence on eBay.  The starting bid is $68,000 and the highest bidder will walk away with a full readout of their gene map, along with a complete interpretation of their genetic details.

There are about 1,600 known genes that influence an individual’s health, and the health of their offspring, according to George Church professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Church has worked on the Human Genome Project and is also a co-founder of Knome.

Scientists are hoping to revolutionize modern medical treatment by making genome sequencing a common-place occurrence leading to more individualized medical care and treatment, as well as boosting preventive care to new levels.  Beyond identifying risk of diseases, sequencing can also determine an individual’s potential reaction to certain drugs and tag those which may be ineffective or even toxic.

However exciting these findings may be, predicting disease is a tricky business and, according to researches, there is still much to be understood. Recent studies which suggest that many diseases are the result of variations of several genes, rather than just one gene.  According to David Goldstien, head of the Center for Human Genome Variations at Duke University, much more research needs to be done before genetic testing can be applied to personalized medicine.

See CNN for further information:

http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/23/genome.ebay/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

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