ok at the Human Genome ProjectScientists are taking medical technology to new heights as they race tomap all of the genes, nearly 100,000, in the 23 chromosomes of the human body.Along the way, they hope to understand the basis of, and maybe even developmethods of treating certain genetic diseases, such as Alzheimers and MuscularDystrophy. They plan to do this by identifying the DNA sequence of an abnormalgene in which a disease originates and comparing it with the data of a normal orhealthy gene.
The entire research project is entitled “The Human GenomeProject.””The Human Genome Project” is a large scale project being conducted bymore than 200 laboratories, with even more researchers and labs having joined in.Most of the labs and researchers are located in France and the United States.The project started in 1990 and was slated to take 15 years and cost $3 billionin U.S. money for the entire project coming to roughly $200 million per year.Federal funding for the project is nearly 60% of the annual need.
This hascreated some funding problems for the project. There also have beentechnological advances and discoveries that have helped to speed up the project.This automation may help to reduce the cost and help the project to meet itsobjectives ahead of schedule. The project was estimated to have detailed mapsof all of the chromosomes and know the location of most of the human Genes by1996. Researchers have successfully located the gene and DNA sequence forHuntingtons Disease on Chromosome 4 and have created a genetic test todetermine if a person carries this gene. “The child of a person withHuntington’s has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene, which inevitably leads tothe disease.
“Once an individual acquires the gene, it is only a matter oftime before they acquire the disease. Because the medical costs of treatingsuch persons in terminal illnesses are extremely high, insurance companies whowant to stay in business see this genetic test, and others like it, as anopportunity to screen prospective clients for the probability of such diseases.Some people feel that this information gives insurance companies unfairadvantage over those covered by medical insurance and point out that release ofgenetic information to insurance companies puts a severe disadvantage on theperson who is screened, as well as violates the patients right to privacy.
Ifthis genetic information is not safegua rded as confidential for the patientsand doctors knowledge alone, then the patient can be labeled as undesirable andthe patient may not be able to receive insurance coverage at any price. Thisalso brings up other ethical questions. “Does genetic testing constitute aninvasion of privacy, and would it stigmatize those found to have serious inborndeficiencies? Would prenatal testing lead to more abortions? Should anyone betested before the age of consent?” Obviously, many genetic advancements are tocome of this research. One biotechnology that will benefit from genetic testingis genetic engineering. It too, may have many social implications depending onwhat is created from such experimentation. Gene Therapy is one “spin-off” thathas greatly benefited Gene-mapping. It utilizes genetic engineering to treatgenetic disorders by “introducing genes into existing cells to prevent or curediseases” . Most of the methods are still in the experimental stages and haveyet to be approved by the FDA.
One example would be in a proposed treatment fora brain tumor. Scientists would take a herpes gene and splice it in to anonvirulent virus. Viruses and liposomes have an uncanny ability to navigatethrough cell membranes. The virus is then placed into a laboratory animal toreproduce itself, and after reproduction, is injected into the humans braintumor. The virus is supposed to invade the tumor cells. Thus, the herpesenzyme will render the tumor vulnerable to drugs used to cure herpes, killingthe tumor, the virus, and the animals’ cells used to manufacture the virus.
Withthis and other ideas springing out from the “medicine cabinet”, manyresearchers are optimistic about the results of their research. There is also adirect correlation of the sequencing of genes and production of effective drugson diseases which may have different strands of defective genes, such asAlzheimers. Locating these genes would be crucial to synthesizing a product toaffect that specific location in the gene. The director of the gene-therapyprogram at the University of Southern California, Dr. W. French Anderson states,”Twenty years from now, gene therapy will have revolutionized medicine.
Virtually every disease will have it as one of its treatments.”Such an impacton medicine would take much longer to occur with “hit and miss” tactics, ratherthan methodically mapping out the blueprint for the body. So whether we, associety, want to go forward in this research slowly, or with blazing speed,scientists will go forward and do what they set out to do. The fact that thisresearch will benefit humanity is resounding, we just need to remember to handleour findings in such a manner that benefits all of society, not just those ontop of the economical food chain. Also, persons should be able to decide forthemselves if they can handle knowing what their genetic flaws are. Sometimesknowing you will eventually be afflicted by a disease can be as emotionallydevastating as actually having the disease. Some states have already enactedlaws guarding the rights of individuals genetically tested . The problem isthat most only cover certain procedures and not all of the testing.
Whateverway we govern such testing, we have to realize, will be inefficient by moststandards, as government always is, in complicated situations. I feel that ifgenetic information should be public knowledge, then every country using thisgenetic concept should provide “blanket insurance” coverage for everyone at thesame rate. This would be the only fair action that would have the common persons interest in mind, although it is a socialist concept, people would not bediscriminated against and it would put everyone on a level playing field. SinceI dont see a comprehensive health care plan in our horizon, we should considermaking personal genetic information excluded from insurance companies, thegovernment, etc., except for the actual treatment of the patient, which was theoriginal reason that these tests were created. The reason that I feel geneticinformation should be totally excluded from insurance companies is this: Oncegenetic testing becomes widely available, it would be easy for an insurancecompany to require people to submit to a genetic test before they could becovered. If the person applying is found to be unfit, it could go on his or herinsurance “medical report”, such as a “credit report”, which would blacklistthat person from ever getting coverage.
Obviously there is a need forgovernmental laws to prevent this from happening. No one can control what genesthey will get, and just because you have “bad” genes doesnt mean you are a”bad” person, thus no one should be discriminated against due to these”weaknesses”. I personally feel that the Human Genome Project is a greatundertaking intended for the benefit of mankind. There are many advances thathave been made in treatments as well as the creation of various machines thatautomate the process of gene mapping. Machines that may be used to aut omatethe study of other organisms. I just dont trust the motives behind theinsurance companies who could unduly benefit from such testing. I feel that theindividuals right to privacy should remain paramount, and that there should belaws set in motion to prohibit a person from being discriminated against becauseof genetic predisposition.
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649. Category: Science