On March 10, 2010, it was announced that scientists have sequenced the entire genomes of some patients in order to pinpoint the exact cause of their disease. This is a breakthrough because it means, in part, the cost of such projects has come down considerably and will probably continue to come down thus enabling more people to have this done. The more people that have their genomes sequenced the higher the probability scientists will find which genes cause which diseases.
This also highlights a theme that we discuss in our books—if you want to see breakthroughs in human disease you need to study humans 1,2. This breakthrough was a result of human-based research not research on rats and mice. Research performed on rodents has resulted in linking genes to diseases in rodents but when humans were studied the gene in question was found to be unrelated to the disease. Furthermore, genes that cause disease in humans exist without causing problems in animals. 3,4
That is not to say that research using animals is useless. Knowledge can be gained from the study of animals. But if what you want are cures and treatments for humans, you would be better off spending tax dollars studying humans and human tissues.
The future of medicine is personalized medicine—medicines designed for your genome not the genome of your mother or even a twin. The future of medicine is not in testing drugs on mice in order to guess what they will do when taken by humans. This breakthrough is one more step in that process.
1. Greek, R. & Shanks, N. FAQs About the Use of Animals in Science: A handbook for the scientifically perplexed, (University Press of America, 2009).
2. Shanks, N. & Greek, R. Animal Models in Light of Evolution, (Brown Walker, 2009).
3. Holmes, B. Monkey genome springs surprise for human origins. New Scientist (2007).
4. Noebels, J.L. Single gene models of epilepsy in Jasper’s Basic Mechanisms of the Epilepsies. , Vol. 79 (eds. Delgado-Escueta, A.V., Wilson, W.A., Olsen, R.W. & Porter, R.J.) 227-238 (1999).