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Medicine's Future Could Lie in Each Patient's Genome
Date:3/11/2010

ability to sequence large amounts of DNA very quickly, explained Marion. Previous technology could only analyze bits of material at a time.

For now, the technology is likely to be helpful only with single-gene disorders which, when it comes to genetics, are relatively easy targets.

"It becomes more difficult with complex disorders because these disorders are not due to one single gene but a combination of genetic factors in multiple genes, as well as environmental factors," said Marion, author of Genetic Rounds: A Doctor's Encounters in the Field that Revolutionized Medicine.

"For single-gene disorders, this technology is a breakthrough," he continued. "But for the more complicated polygenomic or multifactorial conditions, which is every condition that affects humans -- diabetes, blood pressure, coronary artery disease and cancer -- there's a complex interplay between multiple genes and the environment. And sorting that out using the technology we have available now is still not possible."

"Right now, it has its biggest effect where one of the 25,000 or so genes we have by itself doesn't work right," Vance agreed. "It won't have much effect on common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's."

Another expert agreed that the breakthrough could have its limits.

"This showed that there's tremendous variability between individuals, and if you're a cup-is-half-full kind of guy, this creates wonderful possibilities for the concept of personalized medicine," said Richard H. Finnell, professor of environmental and genetic medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston.

"But if you're a cup-is-half-empty kind of guy, we've been treating a lot of disorders with aspirin for a heck of a long time without differentiating individuals or even necessarily knowing what the mechanism of action of a drug is and [still] gotten some benefit," he noted.


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