To think that within the foreseeable future (how soon is surely a key question) the possibility of tapping the human genome to unlock the door to solving intractable diseases is, well, thrilling. Yet, I'm also a realist. I recognize there are a lot of policymakers (and others) looking at all of the money spent to date on sequencing the genome and wondering, OK, so where's the beef?
To be sure, breakthroughs in medicine can and will take years of dogged work in the lab to be realized. And while the genetic revolution has clearly arrived, researchers have come to acknowledge some stark facts: we're just at the tip of the iceberg of knowing what to do and how to use this vast ocean of genetic data.
Stanford professor Stephen Quake, PhD, made headlines last year when he used a technology that he invented to sequence and publish his own genome for less than $50,000. Earlier in the spring, we reported that a team of Stanford researchers headed by Euan Ashley, MD, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine, took Quake's complete genome and turned it around to predict his risks for dozens of diseases and how he will respond to several common medications. It’s the first time a complete human genome was used in this predictive fashion.
Since that news, I wanted to go back to Euan Ashley and talk to him about the peaks and valleys of the genetic revolution. In my latest 1:2:1 podcast he tells me that the first area where we will most likely see progress is in personalized medicine, matching personal genetic information with pharmaceuticals. It’s a field called pharmacogenetics and here at the school of medicine, we have one of the world’s experts in field, Russ Altman, MD, PhD.
Euan Ashley is one of those scientists who not only has amazing talents in the lab and clinic but can also explain science to the layperson. I learned a lot from my conversation with him. I hope you will too.