The naysayers of the state-county-federal effort to bring Jackson Laboratory to Collier County have loaded their quiver with all sorts of arrows to shoot holes in the proposed enterprise.
They argue public dollars shouldn’t be used for such endeavors without a vote of the people. They ask why the whole process isn’t open to some sort of competitive bidding. The say there are too many risks and no guarantees. A few have even fired a flaming arrow or two decrying future stem-cell research.
One arrow launched this past week looked to be well aimed at first, but — we’ll argue — ends up missing badly.
It involves a New York Times report and follow-up editorial about the future of genetic research and the development of disease-fighting drugs.
The Times assignment editor dispatched two reporters to do an update on the Human Genome Project. Ten years ago, on June 26, 2000, President Bill Clinton hosted scientists at the White House to announce the mapping of the entire human genome. It was an historic event. The president said the mapping would — in a matter of years — lead to “the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.”
Looking back, the reporters found that Clinton’s glowing prediction was overly optimistic.
The Times editorial last week concluded:
“Now, 10 years later, a sobering realization has set in. Decoding the genome has led to stunning scientific knowledge and DNA-processing technologies but it has done relatively little to improve medical treatments of human health.”
If that’s so, one Jackson Lab naysayer says, then does it make sense to invest public dollars in a research campus east of Naples based on genomics?
In our view the answer would be yes. It would make sense.
Among the points documented by the two Times reporters was the fact that researchers and drug-makers have found that “the genetics of most diseases are more complicated than anticipated.”
Researchers seeking drug-based cures to cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases have found that large population studies seeking common variants in the genetic code bear little fruit.
Times science writer Nicholas Wade reported, “With most diseases, the common variants have turned out to explain just a fraction of the genetic risk. It now seems more likely that each common disease is mostly caused by large numbers of rare variants, ones too rare to have been cataloged by the HapMap.”
The HapMap is reference to a $138 million project that cataloged the common variants in European, East Asian and African genomes in hopes of quickly finding cures.
“The only way to find rare genetic variations is to sequence a person’s whole genome, or at least all of its gene-coding regions,” Wade reported.
Here’s our interpretation of that:
In the future, genomics will focus more on the individual, instead of the group. Until now the cost of sequencing an individual’s unique genome was in the millions of dollars. The Times reported that the cost could fall as low as $5,000 a person by the end of this year. Others predict the cost will drop to a few hundred dollars in the not too distant future.
Before long we could all have our one-of-a-kind genome mapped.
What we’ve concluded from reading the Times stories and the resulting editorial is that Jackson Lab has been well ahead of the curve — not behind it.
When Jackson officials visited the Daily News for the first time back in March, they said they wanted to establish an “Institute for Personalized Medical Research” in Collier County. They passed along literature predicting “doctors and genetic counselors will be able to craft a lifelong health-maintenance strategy tailored to a person’s unique genetic constitution. It will be possible to predict susceptibility to diseases and to prevent, delay or mitigate those diseases with precisely chosen medicines, therapies and customized lifestyle advice.”
This future focus on medicine and treatment best suited for an individual’s specific genome is a future path identified in the Times’ recent report.
In the coming weeks the naysayers might want to drop the mention of the Times’ news stories and commentary. It’s an arrow that fits better in the Jackson Lab quiver.
Lewis is editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org