This week, an email from the Hastings Center promoted The Code, a series of 3 short documentaries on the internet about the origins of genetic medicine. The three are being released one week at a time. The first, released this week, briefly (12 minutes) reviews the determination, or sequencing, of the entire human genome, a project conducted in the 1990’s, and completed in 2000, by two labs—one in the government, one private—that initially worked in competition but ended working in collaboration.
It’s a nice review of the key points:
- A person’s entire genome can be read fast—in a few hours—by an automatic process, at an ever-decreasing cost that now is on the order of $1000.
- We still are FAR from understanding what the genetic code means for human disease. The number of cases in which there is a reasonably direct link between a single, or a small number, of genetic abnormalities and a gene, in a way that allows us to predict risk of disease or be able to make an enlightened selection of treatment, is still small.
- With more reading of peoples’ genomes, and more computing power, what amounts to a massive pattern-recognition problem will likely yield more solutions that can be practically exploited to the benefit of human health. Some entities are collecting more peoples’ genomes in a database, for ongoing analysis and, at first, hypothesis generation—that is, “maybe this is a lead that could be acted on for benefit, after the proper follow-on research.”
- But for now, we should not get carried away—”personalized medicine” is not generally “ready for prime time,” but useful only in a few specific situations, and often most appropriately the subject of new medical research. And one should be careful to get well-informed advice from a medical professional who is expert in genetic medicine, and not over-interpret what a commercial entity might be advising. (But that, about which this blog has commented in the past, is for another time and another posting.)
This first video does not get into ethical issues—e.g., of justice, privacy, and the like. But it is a good, quick, engaging overview suitable for the general public. (BTW, I hate calling non-scientists and non-physicians “lay people,” a term I think best reserved to distinguish most of us from the clergy, and the abuse of which just reinforces the notion of medical scientists as a sort of “priesthood.”)
The second video in the series, due out next week, is on gene editing, and the third, the week after, will address companies that are willing to sequence your genes and tell you, for a price, what they think it might all mean.