Students earn certification, conduct cancer research

Dr. Chris Farrell | Director of the Pharmacogenomics Certification Program | School of Pharmacy | Presbyterian College | Clinton SCPC School of Pharmacy students can earn more than a PharmD. They can also earn pharmacogenomic certification, putting them on the forefront of an emerging field of medicine.

“(Pharmacogenomics) is being used in multiple fields, especially cancer therapy, as a targeted approach to killing tumor cells,” Dr. Chris Farrell, director of the Pharmacogenomics Certification Program.

Pharmacogenomics, or precision medicine, focuses on matching the genetic markup of a patient’s DNA with the most effective drug therapy. According to Farrell, pharmacogenomics has been practiced for 30 years but has gained popularity over the last 10.

How to Earn Pharmacogenomics Certification

School of Pharmacy students take a biotechnology lab course in their first year. During the course, they isolate their own DNA and perform tests to see if their genetic markers match with certain drug therapies.

In their second year, students learn the importance of pharmacogenomics as well as online genetic resources. In their third year, students apply their genetic knowledge through case studies and online assignments. At the end of the year, students take a certification course on pharmacogenomics.

This past year, approximately 20 PC School of Pharmacy students participated in the certification program. In addition, two students presented research at two national meetings: the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the American Association for Cancer Research.

“(The research) helps students with specialized residency programs and jobs in industry,” Farrell said.

Conducting Cancer Research

Over the past year, Farrell has continued his oncology research with the help of PC undergraduate and graduate pharmacy students. They’re exploring the connection between chemotherapy-resistance tumors in chemotherapy-naive cancer patients who are taking non-chemotherapy agents.

To identify this connection, Farrell and his research team have been treating colorectal cancer cells with antidepressants for several months. Their research has shown an increase of expression and activity of multi-drug resistant (MDR) transporter proteins. This increase leads to a resistance of chemotherapy drugs, such as irinotecan and 5-fluorouracil, and caused the drugs to become ineffective in killing the cancer cells.

By identifying this connection in MDR tumors, Farrell and the students hope their discovery will result in better treatment plans for patients who may be chemotherapy-resistant before undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

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