Research team studying link between genetics, drug side effects


JOHNSON CITY (Nov. 13, 2015) – A new team of collaborators at East Tennessee State University has received a grant to study the possible connection between genetic traits and side effects of a drug used to treat HIV.

“Right now, there are more than one million people diagnosed with HIV in the United States,” said Dr. Sam Harirforoosh, associate professor at the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy at ETSU and principal investigator for the project. “Currently, there are 25 medications available to treat HIV and a number of combinations of those drugs.”

One such combination medication, Stribild, was approved to treat HIV in 2012 by the Food and Drug Administration. The fixed-dose, once-daily tablet, however, has caused adverse side effects in some patients.

“Some people show some kidney dysfunction from taking this medication. Sometimes people do not respond to medicine the way we are expecting,” Harirforoosh explained, noting that other side effects may include liver impairment and gastrointestinal issues. “We are trying to understand if genetic makeup influences these responses to the medication.”

Through a $50,000 university Research Development Committee Interdisciplinary grant, Harirforoosh and his colleagues – Dr. Jonathan Moorman and Dr. Michelle Duffourc, both of ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine; Dr. Kesheng Wang, of ETSU’s College of Public Health; and Dr. David Cluck, of the Gatton College of Pharmacy – will study the effect of Stribild in 120 HIV patients.

A single blood sample will be taken from each consenting patient and studied to determine what, if any, correlation exists between the concentration of Stribild components in the blood, the side effects a patient experiences and that individual’s genetic makeup.

In addition to genetic makeup, the researchers will examine environmental factors as well as physiological factors – age, gender, weight and more – that might influence the drug’s effects.

“We are hoping to find this relationship between side effects and genetic makeup in order to prevent those side effects in people by offering them other medication options,” Harirforoosh said. “We want to equip medical professionals with the tools to better care for patients. The results of this study may do that. And this is just the beginning. We want to continue this with a broader study examining genetics.”

All five researchers are members of ETSU’s Center of Excellence for Inflammation, Infectious Disease and Immunity. In addition to the formation of an interdisciplinary research team, this study will also comprise the doctoral dissertation research of Derek Murrell, a student in the Pharmaceutical Sciences concentration of ETSU’s Biomedical Sciences graduate program.

“Everybody brings a particular expertise to this project,” Harirforoosh said. While the study is multifaceted, Harirforoosh said ultimately “we are hoping our research will prove beneficial to the community and to ETSU.”

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