Image: Erica P. Johnson

"Never share your prescription." That's good advice: People may react differently to drugs, whether because of weight, gender, or metabolic differences. When a physician writes a prescription, one would think that it is custom-made for the patient. But, more often than not, it's "Take two and call me in the morning." Advocates of pharmacogenomics say a better approach would be to custom-design medications to fit each patient's needs; some scientists argue, however, that the data are simply too complex to accomplish this.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genetic variation influences individual responses, including metabolism and biological outcome, to a given drug or class of drugs. The field holds promise for both drug developers and patients; the latter could benefit from improved efficacy and diminished side effects. According to Rochelle Long, chief of the pharmacological and physiological sciences branch, National Institute of General Medical Sciences...

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