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Posts Tagged ‘ENCODE project’


Author and Curator: Dror Nir, PhD

 

As an entrepreneur who is promoting innovations in medical imaging I often find myself confronted with this question. Usually the issue is raised by a project’s potential financier by the way of the following remarks:

  • The Genome Project opens the road to “Star Track” kind of medicine. No one will need imaging.
  • What about development of new disease-specific markers? Would that put imaging out of business?
  • Soon we will have a way to “fix” bad cells’ DNA.  and so we will have no use for screening

In these situations I always find myself struggling to come up with answers rather than simply saying, ‘Well, it will take more time for these applications to be available than for you to reach your exit….’. I always try to find a quantitative citation to show how much time and money still needs to be invested before patients will be able to profit from that kind of futuristic “sci-fi medicine”.

Last week, a very recent source for such information was brought to my attention.  As a contributor to Leaders in Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence I was asked to review and comment on a recent report published in Nature regarding the progress made in the ENCODE project [1]. I was also asked to assess the influence of the progress in understanding the human genome on imaging-based cancer patients’ management, my field of expertise.

This short report is nicely written and is clear to layman’s (which is what I consider myself in this field) reading. My attention was drawn to some important facts:

  • It took 10 years and $288 Million to realise that 80% of 3 Billion DNA bases comprising the human genome serves a purpose.
  • So far a very small percentage (3% to 4%) of this potential was uncovered in the scope of this project.
  • Already now it is clear that much of the “knowledge” regarding the human genome’s functionality will need to be re-written.
  • Researchers anticipate that future studies using advanced technologies will contribute to better estimation of the knowledge gap.
  • Good news: these studies are leading to better understanding of diseases’ pathological characteristics and to more accurate reporting of disease sources. This gives hope to future development of disease specific drug development.

So, back to the subject of this post: it seems to me that we are quite a few decades and many billions of dollars away from “Star-Trek medicine”. In the foreseeable  future, i.e. at least during my life time (and I hope to live a while longer…), the daily routine of cancer patients’ management will have to rely on workflows constituted of screening, diagnosis, a treatment choice that includes a trial and error type of drugs’ choice, and a long-term post treatment follow-up. Smart imaging promises to increase cost efficiency and medical efficacy of these workflows. And I do hope that our children will benefit from the investment our generation is making in understanding the way the human genome is functioning.

  1. Science 7 September 2012: Vol. 337 no. 6099 pp. 1159-1161
    DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6099.1159 http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6099/1159.summary?sid=835cf304-a61f-45d5-8d77-ad44b454e448

Written by Dror Nir

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