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Can Your DNA Predict Opioid Addiction?

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Can Your DNA Predict Opioid Addiction?

New Research Partnership Between Bentley University and Gravity Diagnostics Will Explore the Genetic Link to Opioid Abuse

Waltham, Massachusetts, and Covington, Kentucky - Bentley University and Gravity Diagnostics have announced a partnership to conduct research that could inform doctors prescribing pain medication how likely a patient is to become addicted and predict how those already addicted to opioids will respond to certain treatments.

The research tackles a critical issue in the United States today -- the slide from prescription opioid use into addiction. More than 20 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, leading to more than 115 opioid overdose deaths per day in the U.S. And 80 percent of heroin users began by misusing prescription opioids.

The research will examine individuals’ DNA to determine how susceptible they are to becoming dependent on opioids based on genetic makeup and, for people already addicted, how likely they are to respond positively to opioid and non-opioid therapies. The results could have far-reaching impact on whether doctors prescribe opioids for pain to certain patients, how much they prescribe and how they treat those who are addicted.

The three-year partnership will include faculty from Bentley’s Natural and Applied Sciences, Sociology and Economics departments, as well as a public health geneticist who will assist with the research. The project will provide hands-on learning opportunities for Bentley students, who will help process and enter the data and write computer scripts. It is funded by a $360,000 grant from Gravity Diagnostics, a laboratory based in Northern Kentucky. The company’s CEO, Tony Remington ‘92, suggested the collaboration after reading about Bentley Professor Miriam Boeri’s research, funded by a National Institutes of Health grant, into opioid use in the suburbs.

“Gravity Diagnostics is committed to addressing the extensive opioid crisis in this country,” said Remington, who reached out to the university as a partner because, “Bentley is doing successful research that is relevant to the world today. We hope that by working together we can reduce the number of people becoming addicted to opioids.”

The Path to Prediction

The first phase of the research will use data analytics to identify which genetic features in patients are the best predictors of addiction and response to treatment, according to Bentley Assistant Professor Chris Skipwith, who will serve as the project’s principal investigator. Once identified, the genetic features and predictions will be tested by comparing them to the DNA of current opioid addicts and those in recovery.

“This research has the potential to save lives and reduce health care costs for patients and healthcare systems,” said Skipwith, a member of Bentley’s Natural and Applied Sciences department.

Professor Boeri, who is the author of Hurt: Chronicles of the Drug War Generation (University of California Press) and speaks with people addicted to opioids as part of her research, says the goal of the partnership with Gravity Diagnostics is to identify why some people become addicted quickly while others don’t.

“Some people say they loved this drug from the moment they took it and became addicted right away,” said Boeri, a member of Bentley’s Sociology department. “Other people tell me they didn’t even like it at first and didn’t become physically addicted until months later. Are there genetic markers to differentiate those people? That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

The research partnership is an extension of Bentley’s Health Thought Leadership Network, which brings together faculty and staff from various disciplines with industry partners to advance health research with real-world impact.

ABOUT BENTLEY UNIVERSITY

Bentley University is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader with the technical skills, global perspective and ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Bentley’s diverse arts and sciences program combined with an advanced business curriculum prepares graduates to make an impact in their chosen fields. The university enrolls approximately 4,000 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students. For more information, visit www.bentley.edu.

ABOUT GRAVITY DIAGNOSTICS

Gravity Diagnostics is a dynamic life-science organization with a mission to use targeted and personalized testing to reduce overall healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes. Privately owned and located in the Northern Kentucky region, Gravity Diagnostics is a full-service, state-of-the-art CLIA laboratory providing innovative services and licensed in all 50 states. To learn more, visit www.gravitydiagnostics.com.

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