Dr. Francis Collins
Begley, Debra Rosenberg Sharon, Yarett, Ian, Newsweek
Byline: Sharon Begley, Debra Rosenberg, and Ian Yarett
The director of the NIH on the promise of the human genome and what happens when you mix faith and science.
Do you have any concerns that NIH's $30 billion budget is vulnerable?
I think history would say that medical research has, throughout many changes of parties, remained as one of the shining lights of bipartisan agreement, that people are concerned about health for themselves, for their families, for their constituents. The Republican Party has been in many past times at least as enthusiastic about medical research as the Democrats. So I am not actually that shaken up about some of the frightening stories about what this means for medical research. We can document that a dollar that NIH gives out in a grant returns $2.21 in goods and services to the local community in one year, which is better than most investments. So if you're trying to get the economy back on its feet, this is a great way to do it.
In your last book, you had lots of optimistic things to say about the use of genomic information in medicine. Yet Craig Venter, who led the private effort to sequence the human genome, said recently that the Human Genome Project produced close to zero in terms of discoveries that can help sick people.
A substantial list of medical advances have occurred in the last 10 years [thanks to the genome project], but they have not directly affected the medical care of most people so far because they're mostly about rare conditions. In breast cancer, for instance, a genome-based analysis to assess whether or not it has been cured by surgery and radiation or whether it needs chemotherapy is being used this year by 50,000 women. And a large number of them will, in fact, conclude they don't need that chemotherapy, which was probably not going to help them and would've made them quite sick. And that's saving our health-care system $100 million this year. …