Medicine Today

George Church is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a professor of health sciences and technology at Harvard and MIT. In 1984, Church, along with Walter Gilbert, developed the first direct genomic sequencing method and helped initiate the Human Genome Project. Church is responsible for inventing the concepts of molecular multiplexing and tags, homologous recombination methods, and DNA array synthesizers. Church initiated the Personal Genome Project in 2005 as well as research into synthetic biology. He is director of the U.S. Department of Energy Center on Bioenergy at Harvard and MIT and director of the National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence in Genomic Science at Harvard, MIT and Washington University. He is a senior editor for Nature EMBO Molecular Systems Biology.

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Question: Is there a gap between diagnosis and treatment? Transcript: Well there’s two gaps there. One is a gap between our ability to diagnose and cure, and there’s other cases where they have the ability to cure but not diagnose the small set of people who react very negatively. Both of these, I think, are going to see major progress. They’ve already seen some major progress. But for example, different people have different responses to a personal decision. If you are offered the ability to get diagnosed for a disease for which there is no cure, some people say, “I don’t want to know that”. Other people say, “I want to know that, but I’m not going to do anything about it.” And the third set say, “Oh we’re gonna embrace this. We’re going to become experts on this disease,” even though they’re not even scientists. They become experts. Think of Lorenzo’s Oil where Augusto Odone actually starts to learn biochemistry and himself makes a contribution to lipid disorders . . . makes a new drug-like, food-like molecule. But there are many cases of this where people become the poster . . . . their family will become poster children for the disease: Michael J. Fox for Parkinson’s, and Doug Melton for Diabetes, and Betty Ford for cancer and substance abuse, and so forth. So I think that’s a really big opportunity is to take ownership of all the things that are special about your family, both positive and negative, and link up with other families that have the same alleles, the same changes in their DNA, the same variations that make them different from the average, and see how it plays out differently in different families. Maybe that some of them have much more severe traits than others, and you can find it by sharing that information. And you can see what lifestyle changes might be correlated with a less severe outcome. So I think that embracing things that don’t have cures, whether they’re severe or not, is an opportunity that we’ll see more and more.


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