Don't expect genome breakthroughs yet, expert says
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scientists should dial down expectations about breakthroughs from mapping the human genome because it will take years to make sense of all the information, a leader of the mapping project says.
Ten years after the first full sequence of the human genome was published, medicine has not been transformed -- and no one should have expected that, argues Dr. Eric Green of the National Human Genome Research Institute.
"Genomics is an information science and we now have information overload," Green said in a telephone interview. "Our ability to generate that information has outpaced our ability to analyze it."
While scientists have gathered "vaults of information," he said, "That doesn't mean that we will cure people or we will change clinical practice in the next 10 years."
But Green predicts the study of the human genome, called genomics, will eventually pay off in a big way.
He and other experts wrote about the 10th anniversary of the sequencing in the journals Nature and Science this week.
"Although genomics has already begun to improve diagnostics and treatments in a few circumstances, profound improvements in the effectiveness of healthcare cannot realistically be expected for many years," Green and colleague Mark Guyer wrote in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
Green said the technology allowing researchers to sequence the genome and read all the little bits of code -- the A, C, T, G sequences that are the building blocks of DNA and of life -- have deluged scientists with information.
Companies such as Illumina, Life Technologies Corp and Roche are bringing the price of sequencing down and adding to the information overload.
"It is because the technology advanced so quickly is why we found ourselves in this 'problem,'" Green said.
It will take a decade to absorb this information, apply it to people and to diseases and to change treatment, he said.
"It's not that there won't be highlights and accomplishments and home runs," Green said. "I can point to things that genomics has changed in healthcare."
For example, a test called Oncotype DX made by Genomic Health Inc can identify breast cancer patients unlikely to be helped by chemotherapy.
"In the next decade what we are going to learn about cancer is going to change oncology," Green predicted.
Their 2011 "vision for genomics" for the next 10 years, Green and Guyer said, will mean going back to the basics -- using the DNA code to learn more about human biology.
Using studies that look at a patient's entire genetic code to try to find causes for diseases, scientists have already found hundreds of new genes they had no idea were involved in disease.
Green and Guyer give Crohn's disease, marked by constant bowel irritation, as an example. It has been a mystery to doctors, but genome studies have now linked dozens of genes to the condition. Identifying a gene that causes symptoms can help drug companies design a treatment.
"This and other examples justify the optimism about genomics' potential to accelerate the understanding of disease," they wrote.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)