Remember when “designer jeans” meant your brand new pair of hip huggers? Well, the successful completion of the Human Genome Project and its impact on the world of medicine is giving a whole new meaning to that term.
The goal of the Human Genome Project is to decipher all the information that tells our bodies what we are and what we are to be. We know that we are a multi-chaptered book, and we can call the chromosomes the chapters. The chapters are composed of many different words. Medical scientists have identified the alphabet for these words, and have been able to put them in an order. But there is still need to determine what the paragraphs are and what the meaning of the book is.
While it may be years until society as a whole reaps all the potential benefits of the Genome Project, the emerging science of Genomics is already having a major impact on drug development and cancer research. Here’s how that works: Healthy cells reproduce and function normally based on instructions encoded in their genetic material. Viruses and other agents cause disease basically by “hijacking” a cell’s “genetic factory” and circumventing its ability to operate properly. The invader substitutes its own set of genetic instructions, and causes the cell to make more viruses or diseased tissue. Advanced gene sequencing technology has given researchers the ability to pinpoint specific sites within the genome at which viruses and other disease-causing agents launch these attacks.
Certain cellular genes seem to be important to viruses. And there is an advantage of specifically going after the cellular genes that are important for these viruses. If you attack the viruses themselves, these viruses are able to re-invent themselves and mutate and then become resistant to the drugs that one develops. But, by attacking the cellular genes that are important to these viruses, and less important to normal function of the cell, we minimize or even prevent the emergence of viral resistance.
Once the targeted genes are isolated, scientists can develop so called “designer drugs” that can specifically block or interfere with the virus’s deadly instructions. This process is also known as inverse genomics. Inverse genomics has been most effective in developing therapies to combat rapidly mutating and drug resistant viruses. Additionally, these same techniques are also beginning to show promise in other areas such as cancer research.
According to medical experts, every disease is a genetic disease in one way or another, whether it’s a virus or whether its cancer. In terms of treating cancer, medical experts have said that there is the need to understand the entire process of cancer, one step after another, in order to design drugs that will be therapeutic for it. So then, understanding the process of cancer at the genetic level will lead to more effective drugs.
In the future of health in our society, people may have a sample of blood taken literally at birth, and analysis of that sample will tell us what diseases we may develop. This way, even before diseases develop, doctors would be able to target them.
Unraveling the secrets locked within the strands of the DNA Helix are giving scientists greater insight into Who we are, What we are made of, Where we have come from, and How to treat illness and disease. Advances like these give us hope for a healthier tomorrow.