University genetics Prof. Francis Collins, whose Human Genome Project decoded the human genome last year, addressed students, staff and faculty Friday in a lecture discussing advances in genetic research and how they apply to the general population.
“In many ways, ethical, social and legal issues are more difficult to handle,” said Collins, who is also the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health. “Research has both non-medical and medical uses, which is the importance of blending them all together.”
Implications of Collins” research include early detection of long-term illnesses, though many are not yet curable.
“There are no perfect genetic specimens,” Collins said. “You won”t know (that you have a genetic disorder) because something else will get you first, but we”re all at risk.”
Collins said he believes research can unravel any medical disorders, which arise because of genetic make up and environmental factors.
“Common illnesses will have common genes, but there may be no intervention with the diagnosis,” Collins said. “We hope to reach a point where we don”t just make a prediction, but have therapies based on the disease.”
In the next 10 years, Collins said researchers hope to determine genes linked to common disorders, including diabetes and Alzheimer”s disease, for early diagnosis and treatment to improve the lives of sufferers.
These new advancements, however, will create more discrimination within the work place because potential employees will know their likelihood of developing a debilitating disorder, Collins said.
Early diagnosis and successful treatment will also create financial problems.
“In 2030, genomic-based health care will be the norm, and I hope it works well for me,” said Collins, who will be 80-years-old by then. “Economically, social security will be in big trouble, as the average life expectancy reaches 90.”
“People will chose to improve and see themselves as ideal,” Collins added.
Despite positive health benefits, fears of genetic research going beyond its natural boundaries will dominate thoughts of the general population, if they do not receive information on the advancements, Collins said.
Richard Lempert, director of the Life Sciences, Values and Society Project, also acknowledged the importance of educating the public.
“It is becoming increasingly obvious that research can be thwarted by social implications and human values as easily as it could (positively) affect them,” Lempert said. “I don”t see a cure for cancer around the corner, but research exists to have implications that will benefit us all.”
Rackham graduate student Orkun Soyer, a biology Ph.D. candidate, said he agreed that the benefits of genetic research will outweigh the negative side effects, after listening to the lecture.
“We will definitely need regulations on that,” he added.