Will genetics ever have the promised impact on medical practice?

March 30, 2010

Since the discovery of gene sequencing in the late 1970s, it was predicted that genetics would revolutionise medicine and provide answers to the causes of many of our common killers. But has genetic research delivered its promise? Experts debate the issue in the British Medical Journal today.

London GP, James Le Fanu argues that the influence of modern genetics on everyday medical practice "remains scarcely detectable."

Nearly 10 years have elapsed since the completion of the first draft of the human genome project, he writes. Although there have been substantial achievements and fascinating insights, the prevention and treatment of disorders remains as elusive as ever.

He suggests that "has forcibly drawn to our attention our ignorance about the most elementary aspects of gene function," and it is therefore "highly improbable that the future of medicine might lie in understanding disease at the most fundamental reductionist level of the gene and the proteins for which they code."

This takes us to the end of the alley, he concludes. "There is no way out, and the sooner we recognise it the better because the current dominance of threatens to bury the true spirit of intellectual inquiry under an avalanche of undigested (and indigestible) facts."

But Professor David Weatherall from the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford disagrees.

He explains that mutations for hundreds of single gene (monogenic) diseases have now been identified and, "although gene therapy for their correction has proved difficult, sufficient progress has been made to suggest that this approach will be possible in the future."

Spectacular advances have also followed the application of molecular biology to communicable diseases and cancer, he adds.

"These examples of the medical applications of , all of which are still progressing in many different directions, certainly do not suggest that modern genetics has reached a blind alley," he writes.

He concludes: "The remarkable advances that are occurring in evolutionary and developmental biology, and the highly original approaches to tackling the problems of biological complexity … show that viewing the young discipline of genetic research as a blind alley would be short sighted."

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not rated yet Mar 31, 2010
Everything that can be invented, has been invented. I stand by my statement. :)
not rated yet Mar 31, 2010
"Nothing can fly which is heavier than air"

"If human moves at more than 60MPH, he'll instantly die due heart failure" ~ prediction for new high speed train journey.
not rated yet Mar 31, 2010
Yep and we've not found ET yet so earth is certainly the only place in the universe that supports life as we know it.
not rated yet Apr 04, 2010
DNA, and all the molecules surrounding it, are self-assembled nano-structures. Knowing the enormous difficulty to "tweak" even very "simple" (homogeneous) "nano-scale" materials like silicon chips etc., trying to tweak complex biological systems seems a daunting task. The "degrees of freedom" are also very limited. You tweak some molecules -> domino effect -> ... It is NOT like building a house, rather dealing with a deck of card house, you can't move/touch much without the house falling down. Sad but sobering ...

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