As a professional in the field of pharmacogenomics, I spend a lot of time talking about how to pronounce that word and what it actually means. As I’ve written about at length, it simply describes the study of how a person’s genetic composition affects they way various drugs or medications are metabolized. While its long been known that different people respond to the same stimulus differently, the field of study truly erupted in the 1960s and has since been applied to personalized medicine for those suffering from cancers and other intense illnesses.
But move over, pharmacogenomics, there’s a new player in town. While the study of how a perosn’s genes impact the way they react to drugs is important, there’s a crucial step in between the actual DNA itself and the breakdown of a drug — the protein. DNA itself is nothing but an instruction manual for the cell to read and manufacture various proteins. Even after the “instructions” have been read, the resulting protein can vary in shape, function, and form for a grab-bag of reasons. As such, while the study of genes is still an urgent one, so is the study of the proteins those genes code for. Enter pharmacoproteomics.
The field of proteomics has been around for centuries as the study of the proteins that execute tasks in the body. Humans can have up to 2 million different varieties of proteins in their bodies at one time, all in charge of different tasks.
Pharmacoproteomics, then, is a broad term that describes how drugs and proteins interact and affect each other’s function. Drugs can radically influence a protein’s ability to do its job by changing its shape, changing its environment, or disabling it altogether. By the same token, a protein may change a drug’s efficacy by metabolizing it in a way that prevents it from taking the desired effect.
This relatively new field is going to zero in even further on ways that we can tailor medicines to a person’s unique makeup. While small still, pharmacoproteomics may shed some light on even more of the reasons drugs work differently on different people and help us make more people well.