Erica Woodahl, University of Montana – Advancing Equity in Pharmacogenomics
On University of Montana Week: Access to the future of healthcare practices isn’t shared by all.
Erica Woodahl, professor in the department of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences, determines how to make sure everyone benefits.
Erica L. Woodahl, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of the Skaggs Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Montana. Erica Woodahl received a B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame and a Ph.D. from the Department of Pharmaceutics at the University of Washington. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in clinical pharmacokinetics at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Woodahl research focuses on precision medicine and pharmacogenomics to identify sources of interindividual variability in disease treatment and prevention (e.g. genes, environment, and lifestyle). Translation of pharmacogenomics into clinical practice requires genetic research with diverse patient populations to accurately predict drug response and toxicity for all people regardless of geographic location, ethnicity, or age. Towards this end, we focus on precision medicine and pharmacogenomics with rural, American Indian and Alaska Native, and pediatric populations. Our research is part of the Northwest-Alaska Pharmacogenomics Research Network (NWA-PGRN), whose goals are to engage underserved populations in precision medicine research. We use community-based participatory research to address complex and important challenges to conducting precision medicine research and aid in the translation of precision medicine research into the clinic. The laboratory is also focused on understanding the mechanisms by which pharmacogenomics alter the function of drug-metabolizing enzymes (e.g. cytochrome P450 drug-metabolizing enzymes), drug transporters (e.g. ATP-binding cassette transporters), and regulatory proteins that contribute to drug disposition.
Advancing Equity in Pharmacogenomics
Advances in precision medicine — utilizing a patient’s genetics, lifestyle, and environment— promise to transform healthcare, particularly by discovering mechanisms of disease pathology and developing personalized therapeutics. The most readily adoptable tool of precision medicine is pharmacogenomics, in which a patient’s genetic profile is used to choose the best medication to improve drug safety and response. However, implementation of pharmacogenomics has largely only benefited patients living in proximity to large healthcare facilities or academic medical centers in major metropolitan areas, leaving many underserved populations behind.
My research has led to the launch of a new institute to ensure equitable access to pharmacogenomics for underserved communities. Our priority is to address healthcare disparities for rural and tribal patients who have historically been the last to gain access to emerging healthcare technologies. We have partnered with healthcare systems across Montana to understand the unique challenges in implementing pharmacogenetics in resource-limited settings. This work has built on more than a decade of community-engaged research focusing on increasing participation of rural and tribal communities in precision medicine research. Key to these partnerships are building trust and working to ensure that the research addresses healthcare priorities of the community, including the areas of cancer and mental health. Across our partner sites, there is enthusiasm for utilizing pharmacogenetic testing and increasing system-wide adoption. This work will help to ensure equitable access to pharmacogenetic testing for underserved communities in Montana and serve as a model for other resource-limited areas in the U.S.
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