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The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Tribal Council approves publication of Pharmacogenetics research papers

By B.L. Azure
THHS PIO

Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz, center, informs the Tribal Council about Tribal Health’s participation in Pharmacogenetics project with the University of Montana School of Pharmacy and the Montana Cancer Institute. On Dr. Muzquiz’s left is THHS Director Kevin Howlett; on her right is Dr. Erica Woodahl, UM School of Pharmacy. (B.L. Azure photo)Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz, center, informs the Tribal Council about Tribal Health’s participation in Pharmacogenetics project with the University of Montana School of Pharmacy and the Montana Cancer Institute. On Dr. Muzquiz’s left is THHS Director Kevin Howlett; on her right is Dr. Erica Woodahl, UM School of Pharmacy. (B.L. Azure photo)

PABLO — In 2007 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Health and Human Services Department, the University of Montana and the Montana Cancer Institute Foundation entered into a mutually beneficial agreement that focuses on cancer research on American Indians, in particular members of the CSKT.

One of the goals of the research is to find out how the tribal members respond to the various pharmaceuticals used to treat cancer and its collateral effects.

Last week, University of Montana School of Pharmacy professor, Dr. Erica Woodahl, along with THHS Director Kevin Howlett and Polson THHS Clinic Medical Director Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz met with the Tribal Council to give an update on the pharmacogenetics project and request approval for the publication of three professional manuscripts about the project in medical journals. The Tribal Council voted to publish the manuscripts. One focuses on how to establish a partnership on medical research; the second focuses on the bi-directional exchange of information enabled with the Community Pharmacogenetics Advisory Committee; and the last one focuses on the difference between research in large population centers versus research from rural areas, in particular Indian reservations.

“In 2007 Dr. Patrick Beatty approached Tribal Health about doing a study on American Indians and cancer,” Muzquiz said. “Due to our low population there is not a lot of (medical) information out there about Indians.”

Muzquiz said the push in medical research such as the UM pharmacogenetics project is to have broad support.

“If you’re going to do research, especially in Indian Country, you need a community buy in,” she said. “When we were first approached about the project we were hesitant.”

Muzquiz said researchers in Indian Country often don’t share garnered information with tribal officials and appropriate programs. However, the initial hesitancy quickly abated after initial meetings with UM Pharmacy School professors and Montana Cancer Institute’s Dr. Beatty.

UM Pharmacy School doctorial candidate Chelsea Morales of Fort Belknap discusses the Pharmacogenetics In American Indians (CSKT) project with high school students at the SKC Career Fair. (B.L. Azure photo)UM Pharmacy School doctorial candidate Chelsea Morales of Fort Belknap discusses the Pharmacogenetics In American Indians (CSKT) project with high school students at the SKC Career Fair. (B.L. Azure photo)

Beatty, through the years had treated numerous members of the CSKT with various forms of cancers. He felt there was a potential to discover why American Indians, in this case Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people get cancer and how to medicate properly.

Answers to those questions could be answered by the field of research called pharmacogenetics where the focus is on how a person’s genetic make-up affects an individual’s response to the prescribed medications.

It is a well-known scientific fact the people can respond in different ways to the same drug — genetic make-up is a determining factor. Response runs the gamut from no response to serious side effects. Somewhere along that continuum may be the perfect dose or there may be the need for a different pharmaceutical.

The end product of the research is to find the right drug at the right dosage that doctors can prescribe to cancer patients based on their genetic make-up and the types of cancer they have.

The mission of the CPAC is to: increase tribal input about pharmacogenetics research; work together to build trust and strengthen the partnership between researchers and the tribal community; provide advice about the cultural approaches to conduct pharmacogenetics research projects involving the Tribes; and discuss the tribal interest in the research.

Towards that relationship the research groups formed the Community Pharmaceutical Advisory Council. The Flathead Reservation CPAC members include Bernard Azure, Brenda Bodnar, Jamie Cahoon, Dib Espinoza, Vernon Finley, Tony Incashola and Cheryl Mathias.

Dr. Muzquiz said oncologist Dr. Pat Beatty of the Montana Cancer Institute is the driving force behind the research effort.

For more information about the research, please contact Dr. Erica Woodahl, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Montana (406-243-4129), or Cindi Laukes, M.A., at the Montana Cancer Institute (406-329-5663).

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