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World-Changing Ideas

Preventative genetics: The ultimate way to halt disease

Can the information in our genes reveal serious medical issues years in advance? A leading geneticist thinks it’s possible.

We’re entering a new era that’s greatly enabled by progress in molecular biology and genetics, says George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. It is not only our ability to change our environment in response to person-to-person difference, but also even our genetics. The big idea is preventative genetics: looking towards our genome way in advance so that we can prevent serious medical issues rather than just respond to them.

Medicine has witnessed a full sweep - from the times when it was full of superstition, to knowing it but not knowing what to do about it, to now where we have 2,600 genes we know of that are predictive of illness, to a future where we can extrapolate this information and see how far we can take this in terms of altering our genetic and environmental components.

This will change medicine into an information science, in a similar way to how navigating streets has changed radically through phones and GPS systems. It’s very important go have broad discussion – we’re not talking about cloning humans, we are talking about genetically engineering adult human cells. Humans have a long history of changing everything to do with our environment and ourselves, and we need to change our medicine to compensate for that. The question is: Wouldn’t you like to know more about your body than you currently know? Wouldn’t you want to be informed if there is something you can do about it for yourself and your family?

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