The field of pharmacogenetics, the study of inherited differences that influence a person's response to drugs, rivals bioinformatics in claims about how it will revolutionize pharmaceutical research. To be sure, pharmacogenetics and its allied discipline, pharmacogenomics (the use of tools such as microarrays and proteomics to study drug response) has opened a wealth of research questions and job opportunities. But scientists are still working to untangle the ethical and research complications that delay the development of new medications.

The area has "a lot of sizzle," says John Mellors, a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and director of its HIV-AIDS program. "[Pharmacogenetics] is a buzzword, but it's an inordinately complex biological problem." Behind the hype of the new study area lies hope, and plenty of money for researchers. The growth in pharmacogenetics departments at biotech and pharmaceutical firms and in public financing through the National Institutes of...

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