A ground-breaking trial using pharmacogenomics to improve patient recovery following surgery is now underway at Peter Mac in collaboration with the University of Adelaide, Monash University, and the University of Melbourne.

The research – which studies how a person's genes affect their response to medications - is the first study of its kind in Australia within the field of anaesthetics and it has the potential to reduce common post-operative side effects.  

More than one third of the 2.6 million patients undergoing surgery across Australia each year experience postoperative complications, leading to a substantial impact on patients’ lives including morbidity, increased hospital stays, delayed return to work and increased costs to hospitals. 

Some of the most common side-effects include nausea and vomiting, pain and fatigue - all of which can lead to increased time in recovery and the need for further medical intervention. 

Peter Mac’s Director of Anaesthesia, Perioperative Medicine, and Pain Medicine, Professor Bernhard Riedel, said this innovative research has the potential for wide-ranging application in clinical medicine, especially around the time of surgery where between 10-20 medicines are administered to patients. 

“Whilst this research has been done clinically for chemotherapy and psychiatry medications, it has not been done in the field of anaesthetics,” he said. 

“The project will determine if it is possible to conduct pharmacogenomics testing prior to surgery. This information will then be used to tailor anaesthetic drugs based on the test results to improve safety, recovery and comfort after surgery.” 

The trial is analysing how genes affect a person’s response to anaesthetics and pain management, with the aim to personalise anaesthetic medications to ensure the best outcome and reduce the risk of adverse effects while improving comfort. 

The project, led by Prof Riedel and Dr Michelle Gerstman, specialist anaesthetist at Peter Mac and Alfred Hospital and PhD candidate, and Professors Andrew Somogyi (University of Adelaide), Carl Kirkpatrick (Monash University), and Colin Royse (University of Melbourne), has received grant support from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and research foundations (Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation, the Australia and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, and the Australian Society of Anaesthetists). The trial is expected to run for two years. 

This research will also contribute to the scientific evidence which can enable the personalisation of additional medications, such as propofol, fentanyl and oxycodone, which currently lack evidence for guidelines.