Friday, June 13, 2008

Collins Resigns (part 2)

Nature ran an elegiac editorial in the June 5 edition on Collins' resignation. It provides a desiderata for future directors: "the new director will have to ensure that the implications and applications of those projects are fully explained to all concerned... genomics is now at the point where the science and technology are moving much faster than society's ability to assimilate and make sense of the information."

I'm not clear what is meant by "explained to all concerned."  At any rate, "all concerned" will arguably have a lot of explaining to do to any new director of NHGRI. As for society's "ability to make sense of the information," well yes- that's precisely the point.  If we can't make sense of the information, it seems that the technology isn't moving quite as fast as we might have thought.

This "run-away train" trope has been with us since the inception of the human genome project. But a brief consideration of medical applications from genome research provides good reason for patience. Exhibit A is genetic diagnostics, which have turned out to be a lot more complex and uncertain than originally thought. Exhibit B is, of course, gene transfer. Exhibit C is drug development. Despite large investments in genomic technology, pharmaceutical productivity seems to have declined. 

What can be said, at least, is that legislators have moved slow: Collins described recent passage of legislation against genetic discrimination as one of his proudest achievements.  I wish it hadn't taken Congress 15 years. (photo credit: Roby72 2007)

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