New Article from Vision.org Examines the Promise of Personalized Medicine

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In YouGenics: The Decoding of Personal Health, Vision contributor Dan Cloer reviews three books about advances in genomic science that are changing medicine.

Just as the discovery of antibiotics and the invention of vaccines opened new vistas in the management of infectious disease, unlocking the human genome offers a window into a much more personal level of medical treatment and care. Personalized Medicine is the ultimate promise of the Human Genome Project.

In a comparison review of recent books from NIH Director Francis S. Collins, Scripps Research Institute professor of Genomics Eric Topol, and Johns Hopkins associate professor and medical historian Nathaniel Comfort, Cloer explores the connection between the goal of customized care and the historical movement to create a healthier species.

“The Human Genome Project (HGP) is not just about cells somewhere in a lab or under a microscope; it’s personal now,” Cloer writes. “This is about your cells, how they function and why they fail. But will this knowledge, this you-genics, have a collective eugenic effect as well?”

For the past decade following the initial decoding of the human genetic code or genome, we have repeatedly received the message that understanding our genes is the foundation of a new era of health and wellness. But how far will we go in our quest to eliminate disease?

“We may shudder at the idea that burgeoning genetic knowledge is leading to designer babies and a future society of genetic haves and have-nots. But it’s hard to turn down drugs designed to counter our specific diseases (not just cancer, but my cancer). That, of course, is the personal appeal of DNA technology,” says Cloer.

The Vision article YouGenics examines this appeal and discusses the societal consequences that are often passed over. The growing reality of genetic interventions at ever-earlier points in the development of disease, even in its prenatal stages, Cloer writes, “embodies the eugenic principles that remain a kind of third rail in the health-and-wellness debate.”