Unraveling the genetics of severe reactions to chemotherapy: Moving towards maximum benefit with minimal harm

Drug treatments are essential for the survival of cancer patients. Unfortunately, medications needed for treatment can also cause permanent disabling side effects, severely impacting on the quality of life of patients already suffering the devastating consequences of cancer.

Although platinum-based drugs such as cisplatin are highly effective and are the most frequently used class of cancer medications, they are also accompanied by severe side effects. In fact, up to 80% of patients treated with cisplatin lose some ability to hear and/or experience kidney injury.

If clinicians were able to predict which patients are most likely to experience these side effects before prescribing cisplatin, they could take measures to avoid their occurrence. Pharmacogenomics, the study of how genetic differences influence why we respond differently to medications, aims to provide clinicians with this predictive information.

Dr. Drogemoller will investigate patients receiving cisplatin to identify the genetic and clinical variables that are associated with high risk of kidney failure and hearing loss. She will use these results to guide the development of predictive tests and novel treatment strategies. The results of this research will allow for the implementation of personalized treatment strategies which optimize benefits and reduce the chance of harm for cancer patients.