Sunday, November 29, 2009

Genomics – The Global Opportunity

Genomics is particularly interesting as a candidate area for possibly making the most difference the most quickly to the most people worldwide by contributing to developments in energy, food and public health.

A full understanding of genomics, the instruction set for life, could mean a more comprehensive ability to manipulate both the world around us and the world within us. Biology evolved to be just good enough to survive and genomics provides the critical next-generation toolkit for its greater exploitation. With the possibility of a complete understanding of biology and the ability to engineer life to be optimum, traditional limits can be overcome, moving from the gene therapies of today (replacing or silencing one gene) to working with whole genomes and possibly creating new ones.

The global challenge and opportunity is for humanity to move safely and expediently into the genomic era of biological manipulation.
The agricultural applications of genomics have been underway for some time in the form of genetically-modified crops. Energy applications of genomics are in development using synthetic biology to generate fossil fuel replacements and are estimated to be ready for commercial launch in 2011. The public health application of genomics is especially promising, using genomics to further understand and eradicate disease. Genetic information is already starting to be medically actionable and is likely to become increasingly useful over time. Its two main current uses are in pharmacogenomics, personalized therapeutics, categorizing drug responders and non-responders for tailored treatment, and in routing higher-risk individuals to earlier screenings for chronic diseases such as prostate cancer and breast cancer. It is estimated that each individual is in the upper 5% risk tier for at least one chronic disease and that $100,000 per person per condition could be saved as a result of earlier detection. By 2010, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, cancer will surpass heart disease as the world’s greatest killer, and in fact, developing countries could be at the highest risk due to smoking and high-fat diets.

As our molecular understanding of disease progresses and genomic technologies continue to decrease in cost and become increasingly medically relevant, the use of genomics could become quite widespread. Physicians could start to see the precise, additive information conferred by genomics as a means of improving the care now delivered, finding themselves initially encouraged and eventually regulated into incorporating genomics in care regimens. Pharmaceutical companies are already using genomics as a means of improving efficacy in drug discovery and delivery, providing much-needed assistance to their ailing cost structures. Individuals worldwide could have unprecedented access to their health information which could prompt a much greater level of responsibility-taking and health self-management.

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