The advent of direct-to-consumer DNA testing means that anyone with cash and curiosity can now glimpse their molecular makeup. Personal genomics will soon be common currency. Nobel Laureate Paul Nurse, geneticist Francis Collins and other prominent researchers discussed how personal genomics will affect our lives. To what extent do our genes determine our health and who we are? What are the dangers and opportunities of viewing ourselves in molecular terms? If your DNA can hint at your future, will you read your biological biography?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1951 (51.90)
Image ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Francis Collins is known for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and leadership of the Human Genome Project, an international project that culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. For his accomplishments, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007. Acknowledged for his consistent emphasis on the importance of ethical and legal issues in genetics, Dr. Collins leads the effort to ensure that this new trove of sequence data is translated into tools for the advancement of biological knowledge and improvement of human health. Dr. Collins was appointed Director of the National Institutes of Health in 2009. He previously served as Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health from 1993-2008. In addition to his achievements as the NHGRI director, his laboratory discovered a number of important genes, including those responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease and most recently, genes for adult onset diabetes and the gene that causes Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a dramatic form of premature aging. He is the author of The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine and The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
Misha Angrist is a 43-year-old male who is near-sighted and has a family history of heart disease. He has 23 pairs of chromosomes, a wife, and two children.
Computer scientist Latanya Sweeney is interested in the intersection between technology and policy. She has had a major impact on the health care industry and on the creation of systems and legislation that insure patients’ privacy rights. She is Director of the Data Privacy Lab and an assistant professor of computer science, technology, and policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
Physician and geneticist James Evans uses family history and genetic testing to evaluate and counsel patients about their risk for cancer. His research explores how genetics influences an individual’s response to medication. He is a professor of medicine and the director of Clinical Cancer Genetics and The Bryson Program in Human Genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Sociologist Nikolas Rose is interested in how genomics affects personal identity and the social and legal ramifications of studying the human genome. He is the James Martin White Professor of Sociology and the Director of the BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at the London School of Economics.
Sir Paul Nurse is a Nobel Laureate and the President of Rockefeller University, where he continues to do research in cell biology. He is the former Chief Executive of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom. Nurse was knighted in Great Britain for his contributions to cancer research.