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Dr. Julie Wharam hopes to bring pharmacogenomics to mainstream in Grand Forks region

Wharam is starting "Do Life Health Personalized Precision Medicine" out of her home in Thompson, North Dakota, to bring pharmacogenomics to the region. Pharmacogenomics is essentially the study of DNA to determine how an individual will respond to their medications. The service is covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

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Julie Wharam is starting Do Life Health Personalized Precision Medicine out of her home in Thompson, ND.
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THOMPSON — Dr. Julie Wharam has been a pharmacist for 20 years, but now she is venturing into a new line of medicine.

Wharam is starting "Do Life Health Personalized Precision Medicine" out of her home in Thompson, North Dakota, to bring pharmacogenomics to the region. Pharmacogenomics is essentially the study of DNA to determine how an individual will respond to their medications. The tests themselves are covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

“It's basically a blueprint of your genes and your body,” Wharam said. “And it's a one time test. Once you have it, you can use it to do a couple of things. You can use it to predict how you're going to react to medications that you're possibly not even taking, so when you need them, you know how to dose them or what meds to avoid.”

Wharam is certified in pharmacogenomics as of January, and her journey to changing paths has been featured in "RX Influencer Magazine," which is a monthly publication dedicated to the pharmacy industry. The idea of pursuing it in Grand Forks was sparked by two of her children who have cystic fibrosis; a respiratory disease.

“COVID was like literally living my worst nightmare,” Wharam said. “There was a respiratory virus on the loose and we don't know anything about it.”

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Wharam walked away from her job as a pharmacist and began trying to think of things to do “outside of the box” of typical pharmaceuticals. After doing research, she came across pharmacogenomics and began studying it. Starting Aug. 1, her electronic health record goes live and she will be able to enter patients into her electronic health record. Although she cannot prescribe drugs, she can evaluate people’s DNA and recommend drugs based on her findings.

So, how does she find someone’s “DNA blueprint?” Clients can complete the process without even seeing Wharam in person. Wharam can send clients a kit to their home allowing them to complete a cheek swab, which is then sent to a lab. The results come in after 10 to 14 days, and then she can evaluate them and do comprehensive medication evaluation to understand interactions certain medications will have with someone’s genes and much more.

Dr. Natasha Petry, associate professor of practice at NDSU’s School of Pharmacy, said the research surrounding pharmacogenomics has been around for decades, but recently consultants and pharmacists who specialize in pharmacogenomics are starting to pop up.

“With the completion of the Human Genome Project, that really jump started it all,” Petry said. “And I'd say certainly (from) the mid-2000s until just even the last few years, it has really taken off. We're starting to see implementation in major health centers that are incorporating this into care.”

However, Petry said a drawback to using pharmacogenomics right now as a patient is the limited body of work available for many medications.

“There are evidence-based guidelines out there for pharmacogenomics for certain medications, but just a handful of them, so I think that one of the disappointments that I've heard from patients is they get a genetic test done, and they're expecting to be able to figure out every single medication that they're on and that they might be on in the future,” Petry said. “And that's not quite where we're at yet.”

Wharam emphasized pharmacogenomics is not a “be-all end-all” of medicine for the future, but it is a tool she believes is in the process of becoming a much more mainstream segment of medication and health assessment that could curb the deaths from adverse drug events, which are the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States.

“(Prescribing medication) is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Wharam said. “There's a lot of different factors that come into play, and some of those factors are other medications you're on (and) your genes. Those are the main ones that come into play. There’s many other things.”

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Wharam hopes newborn babies will eventually complete pharmacogenomics screenings because it will be accurate for the rest of their lives, as genes don’t change their makeup over time.

“I say it's like using the flip phone when we have access to the iPhone,” Wharam said. “(It’s like) why are we not using this precision personalized technology in people’s healthcare?”

Wharam believes are barriers to pharmacogenomics becoming more mainstream — namely lack of knowledge. She hopes to inform people on its benefits through her new line of work in Grand Forks.

“It's not new technology, it's just become less expensive,” Wharam said. “Before, it was crazy to do this. So it's not like it's this new technology, it's been there.”

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Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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