Genetics and genomics: medicine made to measure?

Saturday 31 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Lecture Theatre 1 Lunchtime Debates

Hardly a week goes by without another report of a gene involved in one condition or another being discovered. Groups such as the Wellcome Trust’s Case Control Consortium have discovered complex and subtle genetic involvement in conditions such as obesity and diabetes, moving beyond simple ‘gene for’ associations; uncovering large numbers of genes with small effects, rather than small numbers with large effects. Other teams have used genetics to predict how patients might respond to particular drugs, enabling those most likely to benefit to be idetified, and allowing others to avoid unnecessary treatment and side effects. The application of genetics and genomics to medical treatment has fast been moving from science fiction to reality. 

These developments are allowing exciting leaps forward in human health, but what might be the implications of this new technology? What are the real scientific insights behind the headlines, and what might they mean for us? How will these breakthroughs change healthcare? Will knowing our genetic destinies benefit insurers more than patients? With some drugs, such as BiDil, being prescribed on racial grounds, could personalisation of medicine be moving into dangerous territory? And as the practices of many private companies offering genetic testing have come in for criticism, should there be more regulation of the ‘Wild West’ of medical genetics?

Listen to the session audio…

Other formats are available here

Dr Philippa Brice
head, knowledge and communications, Foundation for Genomics and Population Health

Professor Peter Donnelly
director, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics; professor, statistical science, University of Oxford

John Gillott
researcher, Innogen, Open University; co-author, Science and the Retreat from Reason

Mark Henderson
head of communications, Wellcome Trust; author, The Geek Manifesto: why science matters

Robin Walsh
graduate medical student; co-founder, Sheffield Salon

Produced by
Robin Walsh graduate medical student; co-founder, Sheffield Salon
Recommended readings
Dorian Gray: is there a secret to eternal youth?

Dorian Gray achieved eternal youth; now science is moving towards the same goal. Will some people today live to 1,000?

Anjana Ahuja, The Times, 8 September 2009

personalized medicine 101

Personalized medicine uses new methods of molecular analysis to better manage a patient’s disease or predisposition toward a disease. It aims to achieve optimal medical outcomes by helping physicians and patients choose the disease management approaches likely to work best in the context of a patient’s genetic and environmental profile.

Personalized Medicine Coalition, 2009

Notes from a young science

The perhaps slightly boring answer, that there is a ‘bit of both’ nature and nurture involved in human existence, still hasn’t answered the question where the influence of each begins and ends, and more importantly, how we might control them both.

Robin Walsh, Culture Wars, 8 May 2009

50 Genetics Ideas You Really Need to Know

In recent years knowledge of our genetic code has changed our understanding of life on Earth. New genetic technologies are transforming the way we live and promise treatments for otherwise incurable diseases. But these advances are also generating controversy, particularly surrounding issues such as cloning and designer babies.

Mark Henderson, Quercus, 2 April 2009

Obesity: Gene discovery suggests some people are hardwired to overeat

The discovery of six genes that raise the risk of obesity highlights the role of the brain in making people more likely to overeat.

Ian Sample, Guardian, 15 December 2008

The day I had my genes tested

DNA analysis for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's is growing in popularity, but scientists are doubtful of its value. James Randerson pays £825 to try it.

James Randerson, Guardian, 9 December 2008

Spit parties: Genetic testing becomes a social activity

A company is glamorising genetic testing by taking spit samples at high-society parties to give customers risk profiles for various diseases. But are consumers being given the full story about what genetic risk means?

Imran Khan, Guardian Science Blog, 18 September 2008

Gene therapy: how science moved from hype to hope

‘Magic bullets’ for killer diseases were once the medical goal, but only now is the true value of genetics being understood – and it’s the many, not the few, who will benefit.

Mark Henderson, The Times, 2 June 2007

Science and the Retreat from Reason

Examines the roots of the public's waning faith in science. The authors look at the effects of discoveries in quantum mechanics, the postwar loss of certainty in the sciences, chaos and complexity, science and humanism, the quest for beauty in science, and the mystical tendency in popular science.

John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Monthly Review Press, 31 December 1997

Session partners