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NW team leads UK trial of genetic screening to reduce drug side effects

Around 330 patients with a range of different common inflammatory diseases have participated in the UK's first large-scale trial to find out if taking a genetic test before they receive the widely-used drug azathioprine can help reduce the risk of serious side effects.Dr Bill Newman

The trial was led by researchers at the National Institute for Health Research's Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and The University of Manchester, with funding from the Department of Health and the BRC.

They found that patients with very low levels of an enzyme (thiopurine methyltransferase) which helps the body to process the drug are more at risk of serious side effects.

"There is a lot of excitement about this new area of research, called stratified or personalised medicine, where tests are used to try to work out the most effective or safest treatments for each patient," explained Dr Bill Newman, a member of the trial team who is based in the Department of Genetic Medicine at Saint Mary's Hospital and The University of Manchester.

"This trial has helped to establish the benefits of pre-treatment testing and also can provide reassurance to patients who are not at greatly increased risk of running into problems.  Our study also confirmed that elderly patients are particularly likely to have side effects with the treatment, and so need to be monitored more closely.  Using the test appropriately will help doctors to identify patients at risk of the most severe side effects and to use other treatments instead.

"We hope that this work paves the way for other studies to see if genetic tests can be used to make treatments safer and more effective."

The trial involved 333 adult patients with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, from hospitals in the North West, Staffordshire and Somerset.  The results have just been published in the journal 'Pharmacogenomics'.



Notes to editors:

The NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre was created by the National Institute for Health Research in 2008 to effectively move scientific breakthroughs from the laboratory, through clinical trials and into practice within hospitals to improve patient care. As a partnership between Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Manchester, the Biomedical Research Centre is designated as a specialist centre of excellence in genetics and developmental medicine. www.manchesterbrc.org

The University of Manchester, a member of the Russell Group, is the most popular university in the UK. It has 22 academic schools and hundreds of specialist research groups undertaking pioneering multi-disciplinary teaching and research of worldwide significance. According to the results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, The University of Manchester is now one of the country's major research universities, rated third in the UK in terms of 'research power'. The University had an annual income of £788 million in 2009/10.


Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is a leading provider of specialist healthcare services in Manchester, treating more than a million patients every year. Its five specialist hospitals (Manchester Royal Infirmary, Saint Mary's Hospital, Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, Manchester Royal Eye Hospital and the University Dental Hospital of Manchester) are home to hundreds of world class clinicians and academic staff committed to finding patients the best care and treatments. www.cmft.nhs.uk

For further information please contact:

Kate Henry, Communications & Public Relations Manager
NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre
0161 276 3281 / 07825 142219