Angry at the Genome? Sigh. I rant.

Jan 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Health

If you had a healthy, safe, and nourishing childhood, you probably remember this fondly for many reasons. But among the most basic of reasons is that it was simple. Answers were easy: food comes from mom, the house is just there, and friends were all doing the same thing as you were–school, play, homework.

It would be very cool if life was simple. But it’s not. And neither is biology. But I think that being “Angry at the Genome” is unfair to the genome.

I understand that we all hope for simple answers, and simple solutions to medical problems. But only cranks can promise that (buy my product to clear your toxins and prevent cancer! vaccines and GMOs cause autism! chiropractors fix your DNA! optimize your DNA with quantum something!).

The genome had millions of years to get to the state that it’s in today. And humans have done a lot of outbreeding, unfortunately–er, well, from a controlled experimental perspective, that is. To presume that we should have figured out human health in the last hundred–and especially the last 10 years–is really simplistic. And wishful thinking.

We have made–and continue to–make progress. We continue to refine models. We continue to improve technology and generate more data. And I’m sorry that your medical issue hasn’t been solved yet. But it’s not because people aren’t trying, or that the answers don’t exist, or that there’s a conspiracy involved. We just have a limited number of flashlights and financial resources to point at these problems right now.

I am more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time, actually. The secrets we are unearthing in possible mechanisms and pathways are tremendous–if preliminary. The possibilities of getting to the roots of individual patient situations with whole genome sequencing are huge–if preliminary. Our new technologies may let us expand our range of model organisms (where the answers are more simple and fit the models better) and may offer us excellent leads that we can follow up in the notoriously outbreeding humans.

I wish it was more simple–and that MDs had factual answers and effective treatments that are as appealing (yet wrong) as the cranks offer. I wish more was “actionable” right now. But it’s not. And it may take some time. And there are hazards still, and situations that we need to address (like privacy and misuse of genomic information). And there will be cranks–and I support more regulation to protect patients from them. But we are rowing in the right direction. That’s all we can do right now.

Cross-posted from OpenHelix.

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