It’s in the DNA: pharmacogenetics class

In BPS 115, (Genetics and Pharmacogenetics), first year PharmD students study themselves at a genetic level using pharmacogenetic testing, and volunteer to share their data with each other. Data is aggregated for selected drug metabolizing genes-of-interest. These results are presented on “Reveal Day,” where students role-play doctor-patient consultations and review each “patient’s” proclivity for developing certain conditions and diseases. (See video links, below)

Student Jimmy Nguyen (P1) said, “I like that this class is a 2-way street: we came to learn about PG, but also did PGx testing on ourselves to see the implications and to raise awareness about the importance of PGx testing.” PGx testing may also reveal unexpected ancestry compositions through one’s genes. Jimmy continued, “I discovered that I was 30% Chinese, a fact that my parents refuse to believe and still try to convince me otherwise!”

“Being aware of one’s genetic information is the first step toward understanding its power over one’s health,” he added.

Nguyen ponders the value of the class, “The most significant aspect of this class was the fact that we’re the start of a new paradigm shift in healthcare that takes place upstream with the students, rather than changing the status quo among healthcare professionals.”

Course founder Esteban Burchard MD, MPH describes how BPS 115 came about. “Su Guo PhD and I are co-directors of the Genetics and Pharmacogenetics Program, and have been teaching this class since at least 2004.” In 2012, during a brainstorming session with Alan Wu PhD and Kathy Giacomini PhD, Kathy suggested pharmacogenetic testing. A focus group with a subset of the students revealed that they wanted genetic testing for the whole class. Soon thereafter, it was added it to the curriculum. “Alan is the Director of Clinical Laboratories at SFGH. We initially used his lab, but we started using the 23andMe kits three years ago. We use the technology to teach about genetic ancestry and pharmacogenetics,” Esteban said. “This part of the class is organic. The pharmacogenetic aspect is now led by the students. They founded a new course and an organization called PMSA, Precision Medicine Student Alliance.”

Instructor Sam Oh PhD, MPH said, “What was especially rewarding was watching the students take ownership of their education. It was amazing to see the students take to the PGx education so whole-heartedly, as evidenced by their enthusiasm for the material and the effort they put into the Reveal Day activities. It’s clear that the students appreciate the clinical importance that our genetics can have on how we respond to medications, and that the knowledge they gained is transforming the way they will approach their careers. To know that a new generation of pharmacists is taking this to heart is a very gratifying feeling.”

Richard Ta (P2), one of the presenters and a former student in BPS115, said, “I found the knowledge presented to be vital to the Precision Medicine Initiative in the clinical setting. Precision medicine and pharmacogenomics is crucial to the efficacy of medications in both patients and in Research and Development which could potentially revive therapies that have failed clinical trials. Having Dr. Esteban Burchard, Dr. Alan Wu, and Dr. Sam Oh showcase their work and expertise in the field made enduring impacts on my perspective of precision medicine and convinced me to further pursue research in the field at UCSF. During reveal day, I had the opportunity to talk about the Ancestry component of 23andMe Genetic testing, and how this consumer test may yield possible data to be used in changing a routine blood test in support of Dr. Alan Wu’s research. Overall, my experience with the class has left a lasting impression on my views of precision medicine in the clinical setting as well as in Research and Development.”

Video links to student role play


Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.