It may be a mouthful, but chances are more GW students will be choosing to study pharmacogenomics – the science of developing drug therapies tailored to patients’ genetic differences – in the coming years.
Last semester marked the first of GW’s pharmacogenomics program, a joint venture with Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. While there are seven students in the program, Travis O’Brien, the program’s director, said he sees the program ultimately growing to 30 to 35 students.
The program, taught mostly on GW’s Virginia Campus in Loudon County, Va., is the only one of its kind in the country.
Students in the program will graduate with a bachelor’s of science in pharmacogenomics from GW and receive their doctor of pharmacy from Shenandoah’s pharmacy program.
O’Brien explained pharmacogenomics as the intersection of how a person’s genetics will react with the drugs he takes and how to best treat him.
“The ultimate idea is that you can use some of this data about how someone’s genetic makeup will affect their response to the drug instead of ballparking the dose,” O’Brien said.
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman said he sees the new program as a special opportunity for GW and Shenandoah.
“What you see here is an example of two universities coming together, each having strengths in different aspects of the program and combining their programs to make the program. The synergy is here, and it’s just incredible,” Lehman said.
Unlike other pre-medical profession programs, the pharmacogenomics program is unique in that it has no specific end in mind, such as when a dental student completes his education and enters the field of dentistry.
O’Brien said he sees a multitude of professions that a pharmacogenomics degree could lead into, including medical school, basic science research or even technician jobs, as well as being a pharmacist.
The one prospect that excites Lehman more than any other is the potential for medical policy jobs.
“For GW, where there is a lot of policy work,” Lehman said. “There is going to have to be a strong integration between the two so a middle level of knowledge can exist. This is so they can make wise decisions.”
He added, “On Capitol Hill, many issues have a science component, so it’s very important for our representatives to have basic knowledge about the sciences and what is important in the sciences. I think you’re going to see more of this as we go on at GW.”