Luminaries Shed Light on Genomics' Bright Future
By Jeannine Mjoseth
NHGRI Staff Writer
Among those joining NHGRI Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., for the day-long symposium, A Decade With the Human Genome Sequence: Charting a Course for Genomic Medicine, were Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., NIH director and former NHGRI director, NHGRI founding director James Watson, Ph.D., who won the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, Eric Lander, Ph.D, founder of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Maynard Olson, Ph.D., professor emeritus of genome sciences and medicine at the University of Washington.
Dr. Collins remarked that, in the 10 years since release of the sequence, researchers have discovered the molecular basis of 4,000 disorders and 1,000 genetic variations that make a small contribution to common complex diseases and point towards potential therapeutic targets.
Dr. Maynard Olson, professor emeritus of genome sciences and medicine at the University of Washington, also commented on the need to integrate information that can now be readily gathered into the real world of medicine.
"The potential is finally here to move genomics out into the real world," Olson said. "I guarantee if you start getting molecular data into health records and not just into some artificial study ... there will be a tremendous dialogue between the clinical community, patients and society at large."
Research on the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of genomic research and medicine will be crucial to this dialogue and to genomics' acceptance into mainstream medical care, said Dr. Amy McGuire, associate professor of medicine and medical ethics and associate director of research for the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. McGuire noted she had worked on ethical, legal and social issues that arose in 2007 when Dr. Watson's personal genome was sequenced and analyzed at the Baylor College of Medicine.
Dr. Watson said that having his genome sequenced provided him key information on how he metabolized certain drugs like beta-blockers, a heart pressure medication. As a result, doctors advised Dr. Watson to only take one pill per week rather than one daily.
"That was an extremely useful fact, which I wouldn't have known without having my genome sequenced," he said. He declined the offer to know his genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease, which afflicted his grandmother.
"A tremendous amount about medicine has been cracked open, but it's just barely a start, most of what we need to know about the genome still lies before us," said Dr. Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Dr. Lander is well known for advocating large DNA sequencing projects such as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) a comprehensive effort to understand the genomic basis of cancer. Referring to the recently completed 1,000 genomes project, he recommended a "1 million genomes project" to provide a truly comprehensive resource on human genetic variation.
Videos of each talk are available at NHGRI's YouTube channel, GenomeTV. More information about the symposium, including an agenda and biographies of the speakers, is available at: A Decade with the Human Genome Sequence: Charting a Course for Genomic Medicine.
Last Reviewed: February 4, 2012