Home' Technology Review : March April 2009 Contents A number of scientists bared their genetic
souls recently as part of the Personal
Genome Project, a study at Har vard
University Medical School. They were
among the first of the eventually 100,000
volunteers who will agree to place their
genetic profiles on the Internet.
Genetic profiling can provide infor mation
on what diseases may befall us. And knowl-
edge of an individual's genetic makeup may
also help scientists figure out how to treat
diseases---part of an emerging field known
as personalized medicine.
As many doctors freely admit, says Julie
Johnson, director of the Center of Phama-
cogenomics at the University of Florida
(UF), prescribing medicine is "more of an
art than a science." Approved drugs work---
but not 100 percent of the time, and not for
100 percent of the population. Some people
have no response to certain drugs, and oth-
ers experience severe side effects.
What determines whether a particular
treatment is effective or leads to severe side
effects is our genes, scientists believe. Person-
alized medicine holds the promise of tailored
medical treatments based on genetic informa-
tion, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
The UF center participated in studies
on warfarin, a blood thinner prescribed
for millions of Americans to prevent heart
attack or clotting after a heart attack. Too
little of the drug causes a risk of clotting,
and too much can cause excessive bleeding.
"There's a very narrow window, and there's
a great deal of variability among patients,"
says Johnson. "A lot of work in the past
decade has uncovered several genes that help
explain a great deal of that variability." In
2007, the FDA cleared a genetic test for sen-
sitivity to warfarin to help doctors prescribe
the correct dosage, although the tests are not
yet widely implemented.
The UF center is also focusing research
on drugs prescribed for hypertension, in an
attempt to find the genes that "will predict
how much a person's blood pressure will go
down if they're administered certain medi-
cines," says Johnson.
SPEEDING THE PROCESS
Part of what has contributed to the increas-
ing interest in personalized medicine is the
speed and cost of sequencing genomes. The
first human genome took many years and
millions of dollars to sequence. The price
has already dropped into
the thousands instead of
millions of dollars, and it's
expected to continue to fall.
The journal Science listed
"faster, cheaper genome sequencing" as one
of the top scientific advances in 2008.
These advances have increased the speed
of research in the field. John Reed, the
president and CEO of Burnham Institute for
Medical Research, a center with campuses in
California and Florida, says that the Florida
campus has engaged in major initiatives
related to personalized medicine. While
Burnham's research has traditionally focused
on cancer and on neurodegenerative and
inflammatory diseases, the scientific team
is expanding into obesity, diabetes, and
"We all have friends who can eat french
fries every day and never gain weight, while
the rest of us will have a hard time getting
the belt to fit," says Reed. "There are
genetic differences in how we metabolize
food---individual metabolic rates, hormone
signaling---that's all just being worked out."
Burnham is partnering with the clinical
research institute at Florida Hospital,
particularly the diabetes center, to engage
in research on the metabolic systems of the
The fields of genome research and rapid
drug discovery are coming together to
enhance each other, says Reed, "we'll be able
to, with far more accuracy, define for whom
a drug is really going to work, and to avoid
a lot of trial and error that we experience
when we're confronted with a health issue."
He and other researchers in the field see
a time not too far in the future when
understanding individual genomes will lead
to better, more effective medical treatments
The Technology Review Custom Team takes a look at the technologies that are changing
the way we live and do business. The third article of four looks at the advances in
personalized medicine and the convergence of genetics and the health-care industry.
A TECHNOLOGY REVIEW CUSTOM SERIES
MAKING MEDICINE PERSONAL
Special Ad Section
"We all have friends
who can eat french fries
every day and never gain
weight, while the rest of
us will have a hard time
getting the belt to fit.
Read the complete article online at
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