Francis Collins and DNA

Francis Collins and DNA May 17, 2014

From USA Today:

Francis Collins has changed medicine. As director of the international Human Genome Project, he led the first full sequencing of human DNA, the “instruction book” for human life. In 2009, President Obama appointed him director of the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest funder of medical research. He met recently with USA TODAY’s Editorial Board. His comments were edited for length and clarity.

Q: What medical breakthroughs are on the horizon?

A: Biomedical research is at this amazing juncture, where questions that we thought we dared not ask a decade ago are now possible to ask and answer. Whether we’re talking about neuroscience and the effort to understand how the human brain works; whether it’s the ability to completely read out the script of a cancer cell and understand what’s driving it to misbehave; whether it is the ability to develop vaccines for infectious diseases like influenza that would not require an annual shot; or whether it’s the transformation of one-size-fits-all medicine into personalized medicine. All these things are happening at a prodigious pace.

Q: What will people see coming out of NIH research in, say, the next 10 years that will shock and amaze them?

A: I think they will see the advent of personal DNA sequencing for most of us at a reasonable cost. When we are in need of a prescription, at least for about 120 drugs, our doctors will want to look at that sequence and make sure that DNA predicts a good response to the usual dose, or whether patients would need to have a higher or lower dose or maybe a different drug altogether. We call it pharmacogenomics.

Q: How will that look to patients?

A: If somebody in the next five years or so develops cancer, I think this idea of doing a complete DNA characterization of that cancer will not be something that’s restricted to research projects as it is now. It will become the norm because of its ability to predict prognosis and the ideal choice of treatment.

Q: What about the flu?

A: I think in five years, maybe a little more depending on how trials go, we should be close to a universal flu vaccine so that you won’t be expected to get your flu shot every season against what’s emerging at that point. Instead, there will be a vaccine that produces antibodies that focus on a part of the surface protein that doesn’t change, and therefore should work for any season and should also work for that next pandemic, whether it’s H5N1 or H7N9 or H whatever. We’re a little overdue for the next one, and that’s going to be a great source, I think, of reassurance and relief.


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