Montana Cancer Institute
There’s a paradigm shift taking place in the pharmaceutical industry. Part of it relates to the treatment of cancer. And part of it is happening right here in Montana.
The emerging field of pharmacogenomics studies how genetic makeup determines a patient’s response to medication. Pharmaceutical companies once relied on a one-size-fits-all approach to developing drugs, based on the physiology of an average patient. But scientists have found that different genes make for radically different responses to drugs. That variation can be fatal, particularly with highly toxic medications such as cancer treatments.
Genetic data for most ethnic groups is plentiful – sample populations in the metropolises around medical schools are usually large enough to study – but some groups, such as Native Americans, have been overlooked.
Enter the groundbreaking research of the Montana Cancer Institute, a collaboration between UM and St. Patrick Hospital. MCI is working with the Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation to determine how the Native American genetic response to cancer drugs differs from other populations. Blood samples are taken at reservation clinics and genetically analyzed by professors and students at UM.
“Very little research has been done on Native American populations because they live in rural areas away from medical schools,” says Dr. Patrick Beatty, president of the institute.
Beatty says that access to UM’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy will help MCI garner the necessary data to treat cancer more efficiently in Native American populations. “This School of Pharmacy is far and away the best health institute in the state,” he says. “It’s one of the best schools in the country.”