A rosy but necessarily imprecise overview of the potential impact of the sequencing of the humane genome on health and medicine, assembled largely from the author’s New York Times articles.
“The day will arrive when almost every human malady can be cured or addressed in some way,” writes Wade, a Times science reporter who has extensively covered the Human Genome Project. Although the title does not so indicate, about one third of his report is on the race to sequence the human genome and the competition between the international, public consortium of academic biologists, originally directed by Nobel Prize–winner James Watson, and the profit-making venture, Celera, headed by Craig Venter, to get there first. That story, peopled with ambitious, warring personalities, deserves a study of its own, and its purpose here seems to be to bolster to book-length the meager data thus far available on how knowledge of the human genome will change the biomedical sciences and medicine. Wade, who conducted extensive interviews with researchers, predicts that the next decade will see a host of new protein-based drugs, sophisticated new diagnostic tests, and new methods of treating diseases. He identifies two major approaches: first, scanning the normal genome to identify proteins of medical use; second, looking at variations in the genome to discover the roots of specific diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis. The potential use of embryonic and adult stem cells to influence cell behavior and regenerate damaged or diseased tissues and possibly even whole organs is explored, as is the possible extension of the life span through genetic manipulation.
A creditable attempt to explain the directions that the new technology is moving in—and the possibilities of future benefits.