Genetic Decoding

October 2, 2002
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Mapping the human genome may certainly be seen as the most fantastic achievement of all time, but what is known of the 3 billion base pairs and sequences of chemicals in the genes (and their effect) leaves more than half the mystery unsolved. What is known about one of the greatest human achievements is that people are behaving and reacting like … humans.

You, too, can have your entire genetic code read and decoded for $1,500 (though the price is said to be steadily decreasing). The procedure can be conducted in your doctor’s office, the material sent to a central U.S. lab and the results returned to your primary care physician.

Dr. Kent Bottles, the new president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center for Health Professions, provided a thumbnail of genomics accomplishments and the attendant issues last week in the first of what will likely become an annual series of health forums drawing a national audience and international speakers and experts — not the least of whom hail from the Van Andel Institute — and Bottles himself who has held the highest level positions within the medical, university and scientific communities. His immediate past position was that of president of the Genomics Repository and chief knowledge officer at Genomics Collaborative in New York City. He remains a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board in Cambridge, Mass.

The first of the 2002 forums last week drew VAI researchers, physicians and health care professionals from around the community, the heads of local health insurance companies, and St. Mary’s President and CEO Philip McCorkle and Spectrum Health President and CEO Richard Breon, who sat on opposite sides of the room. (Both co-sponsored the forum with Grand Valley State University.)

Bottles’ ability to communicate the information to even the general public within the audience rivals his professional credentials and will likely propel him on to many such stages in this area.

Want the truth? It changes, as additional information is uncovered.

Want a pill? Pharmacia, now doing business just south of the county line, is the largest player in the $350 billion drug industry, and spending anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 on new “targets” for pharmaceuticals.

Perhaps you would rather have “gene therapy” whereby bad genes are replaced or made healthy?

Outtakes from Bottles’ 35-minute speech (that was prior to questions):

  • Traditional health care of diagnosis and treatment is quickly evolving to prediction and prevention. Not everyone over 50 will need a colonoscopy, only those with genetic predisposition to colon diseases.

  • Trauma, and how people respond to/heal from trauma, also is influenced by genetics.

  • Diseases are being reclassified based on genetic profiles, rather than the old method of microscopic appearance.

  • Different genes contribute to the development of cancer in different ways.

  • A physician who treated a man for pancreatic cancer until his death (and who recognized its genetic influence) was successfully sued by the man’s adult daughter, who was living several states away. The daughter maintained that the doctor “owed” her family the genetic information though he had never been the physician for anyone other than the father.

  • Do you have a great entrepreneurial idea to open a cotton sock factory? Even if you are genetically disposed to disease because of the effect of cotton dust?

  • After opening the sock factory, you discover someone you want to hire has such a disposition. Do you hire the worker or discriminate because of the possibilities of negative health consequences?

  • Trying to genetically engineer the perfect child? Not even Albert Einstein was “perfect.”

  • Environment appears to have as much impact on health as any gene, as is shown in studies of twins.

  • Some environmental “insults” (like radiation) can change (mutate) the genetic code.

  • According to the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, FrancisCollins, “One thing is sure: Everyone is a mutant.”

  • All humans share 99.99999…. percent of the genomic code. So, when 1,100 to 1,400 people from across the nation, and with representation from more than 20 countries, come to Grand Rapids in 2005, we will know them.

Sister-Cities International selected Grand Rapids as one of two finalists to host the annual international conference, passing over Tacoma, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Grand Rapids is competing with Phoenix for the conference — scheduled for July. (Duh)

The international symposiums typically include topics ranging from economic development and trade to environmental concerns and medical research. Duh. Who would choose Phoenix, in July, to discuss medical research? The decision will be announced Oct. 19.

The 16-year-old Sister Cities program helped initiate the Perugino exhibit, sent mammography machines to Poland, helped develop a library in Ghana and train Japanese government officials about the U.S. system.

  • There will be one ball in the air, and it will belong to WZZM TV 13. Asides in aisles indicate WOOD TV 8 President and General Sales Manager Diane Kniowski no longer has interest in pursuing the idea to put weather balls around the county, though she was first to have developed the plan. WZZM TV13 President and General Manager JanetMason has but one ball to raise — but it is the original, which sat atop the Michigan National Bank Building. (The history is noted at www.grbj.com because Grand Rapids Business Journal was first to raise the weather ball as part of its Web site development and weather link three years ago.)
  • Fifth Third Bank is ready to send invitations to its annually sold-out Business Outlook Luncheon, which annually overruns the Welch Auditorium. This year bank staff found a reporter willing to talk: Bob Woodward, who wrote the book on investigative reporting, is the featured speaker Oct. 22.      

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