Café scientifique is a simplistic yet amazing science initiative run in 42 towns across the UK. Scientists swap the laboratory setting for the pub/cafe/restaurants/informal setting to explore and discuss current ideas in science and technology. Originated in Leeds in 1998, the cafes ran monthly and covered a variety of scientific topics including the mad cow disease, big bang, biodiversity, GM crops, cancer, cloning, Darwinism, ecology, global warming and more.
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Bringing science back into the social scene, last evening @biobunch attended the first café scientifique in Lincoln delivered by Dr Rajiv Machado (a Senior Lecturer in the School of Life sciences at University of Lincoln). The discussion was about unraveling the genome: the future of human health care or Pandora’s box?
“The last few years have seen a revolution in our ability to rapidly analyse and study the human genome. These advances have led to innumerable breakthroughs in the understanding of human disease, leading to an efficient information transfer from lab bench to hospital bedside. Yet, accessing the complete genetic blueprint of populations comes with inherent risk that, if not ethically managed, may lead to disastrous consequences. I’ll be throwing this topic open for discussion.”
- Dr Machado
Let’s cast our minds back before the human genome project, a time when the genome was often seen as a tangled mass that was interconnected. Where this mass begins or ends or even what direction it goes was shrouded in mystery. Then finally in the year 2001 science became enlightened through the completion of the Human Genome Project!! We found from this that 1.5% of the genome encodes for actual functional proteins and the introns that were often referred to as junk DNA has now been found to regulate the expression of the functional genes!
The human genome was first sequenced around 10 years ago and cost $2.7bn. Since then the cost has dropped to an affordable $5000. Technology has brought us to be able to detect the causative variant in 4 minutes. People might find it intriguing to find genes that influence their looks, physiology, disease, tastes and innumerable other characteristics, and for those there’s personal sequencing services such as deCODEme, 23andMe and personal genome project.
In an article published by Scientific American they stated that the human genome project has disappointed them as so far as it has failed to provide the medical miracles that the scientists had promised thus leaving many complex diseases still unexplained.
How can unraveling the genome be so important in terms of future human healthcare?
When the article published in the Scientific American mentions the phrase ‘medical miracles’ they mean the controversial field of using our genome for personalized medicine. But why? Simple when you walk into Boots, Superdrug or any pharmacy you will be greeted by a vast array of drugs all of which treat us not as an individual but as a general population. Personalized medicine is based on the principle that we are all individuals with individual metabolisms, the genes expressed in one are not necessarily expressed in the another, so then why do we not have antibiotics that are tailored to us, or you specifically.
Ethics is always front and center in science and why shouldn't it be without research would have no limitations? On a side note ethics can reach grey areas the Nazi’s were leading in pioneering research on cancer however none of this research no matter how beneficial can be used because it was carried out unethically. Getting back to the genome insurance seems to be the one that seems to be a global worry, surely sequencing your whole genome could lead to incidental findings i.e you could find out that you are very prone to developing late onset of a certain disease this could dramatically affect an individual's insurance, and of course your employability.
With advances in genetic screening it does not take an imaginative person to leap to the idea of ‘designer babies’! Now this isn't just making your baby be less prone to a genetic disease, this is having a major hand in generating the genes expressed in your future child. Suddenly options to make your baby super intelligent, super athletic basically a super baby will soon be following behind. Of course everyones' main view is that this could be a rich persons opportunity it is well known fact that new treatments often go onto private healthcare and then takes many years to work its way down to NHS.
Would you like to be able to surf your genome on a tablet and find everything about yourself, or are you against it and everything associated with it? Leave a comment below to express your opinion.
Over and out.