Dr. Russ Altman

What Really Happens When You Mix Medications?

If you take two different medications for two different reasons, here's a sobering thought: your doctor may not fully understand what happens when they're combined, because drug interactions are incredibly hard to study. In this fascinating and accessible talk, Russ Altman shows how doctors are studying unexpected drug interactions using a surprising resource: search engine queries.

 So you go to the doctor and get some tests. The doctor determines that you have high cholesterol and you would benefit from medication to treat it. So you get a pillbox. You have some confidence, your physician has some confidence that this is going to work. The company that invented it did a lot of studies, submitted it to the FDA. They studied it very carefully, skeptically, they approved it. They have a rough idea of how it works, they have a rough idea of what the side effects are. It should be OK. You have a little more of a conversation with your physician and the physician is a little worried because you've been blue, haven't felt like yourself, you haven't been able to enjoy things in life quite as much as you usually do. Your physician says, "You know, I think you have some depression. I'm going to have to give you another pill."

We totally depend on what we call "post-marketing surveillance," after the drugs hit the market. How can we figure out if bad things are happening between two medications? Three? Five? Seven? Ask your favorite person who has several diagnoses how many medications they're on.

So now we're talking about two medications. This pill also -- millions of people have taken it, the company did studies, the FDA looked at it -- all good. Think things should go OK. Think things should go OK. Well, wait a minute. How much have we studied these two together?

Well, it's very hard to do that. In fact, it's not traditionally done. We totally depend on what we call "post-marketing surveillance," after the drugs hit the market. How can we figure out if bad things are happening between two medications? Three? Five? Seven? Ask your favorite person who has several diagnoses how many medications they're on.

See the full presentation of Dr.  Russ Altman at TED

 

 

Who is Dr. Russ Altman? 

Professor of bioengineering, genetics, medicine and computer science at Stanford University, Russ Altman's primary research interests are in the application of computing and informatics technologies to problems relevant to medicine. He is particularly interested in methods for understanding drug actions at molecular, cellular, organism and population levels, including how genetic variation impacts drug response.

Altman received the U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and Stanford Medical School's graduate teaching award. He has chaired the Science Board advising the FDA Commissioner and currently serves on the NIH Director’s Advisory Committee. He is a clinically active internist, the founder of the PharmGKB knowledge base, and advisor to pharmacogenomics companies.

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