A Duke University medical geneticist, working with collaborators in Taiwan on a study of Han Chinese patients, has directly linked an immune system gene to a severe adverse drug reaction called Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS).

The sometimes fatal condition is characterized by a blistering rash that can lead to detachment of the skin and inflammation of the gastrointestinal and respiratory lining.

More than 100 drugs are known to cause SJS in rare cases. The frequency with which particular prescriptions spur the reaction varies among people of different ethnic backgrounds.

The Duke team says its new test for the predisposing gene could be applied almost immediately to determine which of the 1.2 billion Chinese worldwide would be at risk for the reaction to the popular anti-epilepsy drug carbamazepine (Tegretol), which is their leading cause of SJS.

Y-T Chen, chief of medical genetics at Duke Medical Center and director of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, led the study

“In the near future, physicians will be able to test patients’ genetic makeup before prescribing medications in order to predict those that are likely to have a severe adverse reaction,” Chen said. “The technology is here and there will be more advances to come.”

Duke: www.mc.duke.edu