“I’ve always been interested in science . . . but I had a personal, really adverse reaction to a medication, and I had to stop and think, what can we do to make medications better? And what can we do to make the best medications available to people who need them?”
Kimmy Deininger is on a mission to improve patients lives through her research in pharmaceutical outcomes. The PhD graduate has a special focus on pharmacogenetics in organ transplant patients, and wants to know if the current path of treatment and management of these patients can be improved.
“If someone has an organ transplant, they are on immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives,” she explained. “They come with a myriad of their own side effects.”
Side effects, such as increased risks of infection, kidney damage, malignancy, cardiovascular disease, and bone marrow suppression.
With a laundry list of side effects, it’s even more important to prescribe the right dose.
Currently, immunosupressant dosing in transplant patients is trial and error. Deininger wants to change that, with the help of pharmacogenetic testing. A buzzword and the future of personalized healthcare, pharmacogenetics allow practitioners to match the treatment with the patient’s genetic markers, to prescribe and treat more precisely. If organ transplant patients can be prescribed immunosuppressants in the exact dose necessary to do the job, and not a bit more, the side effects would be less significant over the course of their life.
Deininger didn’t always have an interest in pharmacy outcomes. Once upon a time, she got a Bachelor of Science in Biology, but after a car accident, her path in life was on pause. She moved to Denver for a fresh start, enrolled at CU for a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, which she obtained in 2015.
It was during her master’s degree program that she listened to a lecture from Christina Aquilante, PharmD, Professor and Pharmacogenomics Implementation Committee Colorado Co-Chair at the School of Pharmacy.
“Instantly, a lightbulb went off,” Deininger recalled. “Like, this is what I want to do.”
“I taught a pharmacogenomics lecture in the Genetics in Public Health course,” said Dr. Aquilante. “Kimmy asked me to be her MPH Practicum advisor. And the rest is history! At that time, I had no idea what I would do with an MPH student, but she was very enthusiastic about pharmacogenomics, so we gave it a try.”
After her practicum and subsequent capstone, Deininger was accepted into the PhD program at the School of Pharmacy, and Dr. Aquilante was excited to have her on board. What started eight years ago at a genetics lecture turned into a mentorship for both.
“Turns out,” said Dr. Aquilante, “the MPH skill set fit quite nicely with a lot of my pharmacogenomics work, and Kimmy goes above and beyond to make sure her research is done right. More importantly, she loves writing and nerding out over data! She loves science, which makes my job easy.”
Deininger’s love of science is evident in her work. She explains that her concentration in pharmaceutical outcomes combines two main ideas; pharmaceutical epidemiology (how a drug or group of drugs affects a population over time) and pharmaceutical economics (comparing the value of one pharmaceutical drug or drug therapy to another). Her extensive work in pharmacogenomics is a compliment to her field, because if the drug can be prescribed at the perfect dose, it would cut down on both side effects and cost.
In May, Deininger starts a remote position with Amgen, a pioneer in biotechnology.
“If you would have asked me twenty years ago what my life would be like, I would not have said this,” she said. “I learned to trust that it would all work out in the end.”