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Cellular GenetiX founder Dr. David A. Targan ’95 promotes application of genetics in medicine

By Matt Sinclair ’90

When people get headaches, they tend to take over-the-counter pain relievers that have worked for them in the past – a decision based on trial and error. That may be fine for a headache, but what if the health issue is something that cannot be treated with widely accessible medications?

According to Dr. David A. Targan ’95, most medications are prescribed based on population statistics and medical studies, so what works best for most patients is a doctor’s first choice. While that approach helps most people, it leaves others searching for relief.

An internal medicine physician, Targan believes that the future of his field lies in personalized medicine and pharmacogenomics, which deals with the influence of patients’ genetic variation on their response to drugs. To help spread the message, he started Cellular GenetiX, a company serving as a distribution and coordination center for businesses involved in genetic testing.

“You look at a patient’s genetics and see how they metabolize certain medications,” he explains. “With blood or a mouth swab, you can determine whether a medicine will work and what kind of reactions it might have.”

Of course, a patient may be susceptible to additional maladies and end up taking other medications.

“A patient may be on four kinds of medications for a certain disease but not know that two are not doing anything,” says Targan. “In the future, you will know whether something is working appropriately or even adversely. It is a matter of being more precise in terms of medicine.”

He is partnering with BIO, which describes itself as the world’s largest biotechnology organization, providing advocacy, business development, and communication services for its more than 1,200 member companies. Early in 2009, Targan will be a featured on-air commentator and appear in online videos.

“There are political, ethical, and legal hurdles; however, if the public knows these things are out there, change can happen,” he says.

Targan believes it’s important to spread the word about new methods scientists are developing to investigate how medicines interact and why some people respond to certain drugs but not to others.

“Pharmacogenomics, for example, could change the entire pharmaceutical landscape as we know it with tailor-made drugs and supplements,” Targan explains. “As more and more information is released and a greater number of discoveries and developments in these fields are made, the general public will need an entity to filter through the noise and let them know which products, procedures, and companies they can rely on and which are more risky.”

He believes science is at a crucial point in learning about genetics.

“In ten years we will be able to test every patient’s whole genome. This is the future for all of us and the way that medicine is headed. We have now entered into a new frontier of medicine, known as the genomic era,” he says.

As a student at Lafayette, Targan spent a summer as an EXCEL Scholar with Joseph Sherma, Larkin Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, studying quinine water and examining different compounds using column chromatography and thin-layer chromatography.

“It gave me a lot of respect for research, especially in regard to the depth and the time that good research requires,” he says.

Having chosen Lafayette over larger colleges, he appreciated having regular access to his professors.

“I always had questions to ask the professors,” Targan recalls. “I loved that you could form a relationship with any of your professors and talk with them easily.”

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