09:57am Friday 18 October 2019

Genomic Research & the Future of Preventative Medicine

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Did you know that there are scientists around the world successfully cloning dogs? With advancements like these, it would seem that human cloning is right around the corner. It’s still not safe or totally doable, but the headway being made through cloning animals is leading us closer and closer to the age-old fantasy of creating literal copies of ourselves.

Besides the excitement of being able to create life without the procreative process, it seems as though there’s a benefit beyond seeing a sci-fi concept becoming realized that this work gives us. Understanding, editing, and working with the human genome (known as genomics) can actually help us prevent diseases and other health afflictions before they occur. Things that once seemed like fantasy have now become part of our reality.

It’s about time for something like this to happen. Preventative medicine can’t handle all of the world’s problems, but it is making leaps and bounds toward handling afflictions that have hurt the human race since time immemorial. If we were able to better understand and master genomics, we could see diseases disappear in our lifetime. The more we understand the genome and study how to manipulate it, the better off we’ll be.

 

The Need for Genomic Intervention

Understanding genetic conditions and how they might have a hand in anything from sleep problems in children to schizophrenia in adults could allow researchers the opportunity to intervene using genomics. The more science can help us understand human genes, the more scientists can understand probability and what parts of life are pre-determined by these conditions. But the big question is: “How does it all work?”

It starts with the idea that there are genetic conditions or predisposed diseases due to one’s family history. When scientists are able to understand a person’s entire genome, they are able to predict potential leanings toward habit and disease in an individual. Via the power of genomics, we have found that it’s possible to manipulate genes in order to help direct a person’s natural inclinations and health in more positive directions.

Genomics’ benefits in preventative medicine aren’t insular, however. For example, through the study of genomics, we have discovered how immunotherapy has been able to build up a person’s immune system to better fight cancer. The information we find through it can help us in other areas as well. The question is, however, how do we get the ball rolling? The answer to this is simple: We need to popularize the proof of practical applications of genomics working.

 

Houston, We Have Some Breakthroughs

Genomics is not exactly a new field within modern science, but its practical applications are evolving. Companies like Nebula Genomics are offering free gene sequencing for research purposes and are able to sequence a person’s entire genome. There is hope that this will help doctors understand the aforementioned insights into an individual, like what diseases patients are predisposed to, for example.

Other genetic breakthroughs are also allowing doctors to prevent illness and disease, vying to beat hindsight that is often obtained post-infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recognized genomics’ potential in this way and launched the Evaluation of Genomic Applications in Practice and Prevention Initiative. Such measures are crucial to the growing study of genomics and could radically affect genomic practices and treatments.

If breakthroughs continue, imagine the positive results and consequences. We could very well see certain kinds of diseases ended in our lifetimes. It will all start with the popularity and cultural and scientific embrace of genomics, which has yet to be completely accepted and validated.

 

The Issue of Privacy

Since genomics does involve this sensitive and fruitful information, there have to be protections in place to ensure it’s not stolen. Data storage and privacy are issues to address regarding genomics advancements. Communications of the ACM explained the risks of stolen genomic data as such:

This data could conceivably be used (perhaps misused is a better term) to make decisions about insurance, medical treatments, the viability of long-term loans, and what amount individuals should pay for healthcare. Genome data could also be used by hackers to extract ransoms from organizations or individuals.

The idea of stolen genetic information isn’t merely hypothetical. For instance, MyHeritage experienced a pretty extreme hacking that affected 92 million user accounts in 2018. With the relevance of this information, as well as the growing popularity of other genomics and family history applications and organizations (AncestryDNA, 23 and Me, and others certainly come to mind), there have needed to be some protections put in place.

Thus, as Maryville University explained, there has been government regulations set to help protect genomic privacy:

The privacy rule established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires any healthcare data that can be used to identify a patient or client to be deleted or encrypted through a process called anonymization or de-identification. Typically, this information consists of names, addresses, social security numbers, phone numbers, account numbers, or anything else that can be used to discover a person’s protected identity.

Hopefully with these protections, we will see the genomics success in preventative medicine continue. The need is obviously apparent, and the breakthroughs we’ve seen being made could lead to highly innovative medical advancements and the stomping out of diseases that have plagued the human race for a long time. Only time will tell, but with a little luck, these advancements will be embraced and accepted sooner than later.

The world that could be forged through the means of genomic intervention is something humanity has long dreamed of — whether that be organic cloning or mass advancements in our ability to keep people healthy. If we are able to embrace these medical and scientific advancements, we may be able to see those things come true. While the practical applications of genomics is still relatively foreign to the world, it’s increasing popularity could revolutionize the topsy-turvy journey that is the human experience. Due to genomics advancements, the future will hopefully see us living in a healthier society, with some of our most common health problems practically eradicated.

 

Adrian Johansen writes in the health and wellness fields, trying to combat the spread of misinformation and psuedoscience. You can find more of her writing at contently or on twitter.

 

 


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