Genetics Promises Boon for Diagnosis: Curing Disease Is Bigger Hurdle

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 16, 1997 | Go to article overview

Genetics Promises Boon for Diagnosis: Curing Disease Is Bigger Hurdle


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


SEATTLE - The genetic revolution, declared at midcentury with the discovery of DNA, won't be a panacea any time soon, geneticists said at a science assembly here.

Instead, the accumulated genetic findings more likely will help reveal people's propensity to one disease or another, they said.

"Gene therapy has yet to fulfill its promise," said Dr. Clare M. Fraser, director of research at the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville.

At least for the foreseeable future, she said, genetic information has "more promise for [predicting] things like cardiovascular disease" than curing rare genetic diseases.

After the 1990 launch of the Human Genome Project to map the 100,000 human genes, and a flurry of premature news reports on genetic discoveries to cure diseases, some lead scientists remain visionary but cautious in making any present-day claims.

Gene therapy, much touted a few years ago as a cure-all, tries to counteract a genetically generated disease by introducing healthy genes into the body. Getting the therapeutic genes to the right place has been the obstacle, Dr. Fraser said in remarks at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Leroy Hood of the University of Washington agreed with Dr. Fraser that the earliest benefits of learning the genetic code will be in diagnosing disease.

"I think the explosion genomics is going to provide in diagnostic tools is still to come," Dr. Hood said. "I predict that in 10 years we will have a DNA chip that will allow us to look at the top 20 kinds of cancer."

The silicon chip, which will hold samples of gene sequences for healthy cells and cancer cells, would allow doctors to better pinpoint a patient's ailment.

Dr. Fraser noted that two genes now help predict breast cancer, and that research is "relatively early" in finding genetic patterns of prostrate cancer. That discovery, she said, will "be a major breakthrough and have an impact on public health. …

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