Speaker Eric Green captivated the attention of a large crowd in Thomas Building Saturday morning with his foreshadowing of the future of medicine.
Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, gave his lecture titled “Bringing Genomic Medicine into Focus,” which detailed the past, present and future of genomic medicine.
Green said that genomics is progressing from understanding the structure of genomes to improving the effectiveness of healthcare, the ultimate goal in this area of study.
“There are remarkably exciting opportunities to use genomics to improve human health,” Green said.
While it may be 2020 or beyond before genomic medicine, defined as “an emerging medical discipline that involves using an individual’s genomic information as part of their clinical care,” becomes frequently used, Green said that the field is progressing much faster than was originally expected.
The first human genome sequence took six to eight years and cost about a billion dollars, but Green said it can be done today for four to six thousand dollars and takes only two to three days.
“We can generate so much data, but we can’t analyze it fast enough,” Green said. “The current bottle neck is caused by our own successes. We developed technology for sequencing genomes, but we haven’t kept pace in our ability to analyze it.”
Green said the process is complicated because of the numerous errors contained in a person’s gene code. The average person has at least 20 genes that are completely inactivated because of errors.
Audience member Nick Corsetti said he and his wife, Mary Jo, are both lawyers who attended the lecture because they enjoy learning about new information.
“Legislatures might have to start developing new laws to protect people’s privacy interests that are not on the books now because they didn’t need to be on the books until this time,” Nick said, referencing the new field being opened by genomics.
Mary Jo, an estates attorney, said the issue of “mental capacity” could be greatly affected with the knowledge of a person’s genome and knowing if he or she is a likely candidate for Alzheimer’s Disease or mental illness.
Audience member Sue Kauffman, Class of 1969, said the lecture left her with a much greater understanding about where the future of genetics is going.
“[It’s] very exciting, and it makes you want to encourage the research through, like [Green] said, contacting your representatives or voting, even though it’s tough economic times,” Kaufman said, referencing Green’s appeal at the end of his lecture for people to help support funding for genetics. “There are so many positive things to come that you want to be supportive of it.”