It is amazing to be invited to blog at the Nobel Week Dialogue this weekend. I have always been interested in science. As a young teenager I had an aviary and kept a detailed account of the bird’s family trees and feather colour, beginning my interest in inheritance and genetics!
Fascination wasn’t the only driver behind my path to science. Having two Mendelian conditions in my family showed me the dreadful consequences when a tiny error in our DNA occurs.
We have 3.2 billion base pairs, some of which can be substituted with no consequences and others which can lead to disease if changed. It still seems incredible to me that a change of just one base pair in the human genome, can lead to a life of hospital appointments. As I learnt more about genetics, it is even more unbelievable that this does not happen more frequently.
Impact of Genetic Research
When I finished my college degree in Genetics, I began working in the medical science industry: diagnostics and pharmaceuticals in particular. This gave me an insight into the practicalities of turning research into products and the priorities, cost, quality checks and time involved.
In my opinion, genomic medicine is the next step for this industry. Using models that take into account genetics to predict effective treatment options could save lives and prevent prolonged sickness.
Earlier this month, Dr Ralf Sudbrak of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics told me about his work on models for cancer patients. They are currently using these to assess the different aspects of the tumour that need to be addressed for effective treatment.
There are many obstacles in place before this type of treatment becomes cost effective but if adequate research is done in this area, I can see these being overcome in the near future.
Discussions at #nwd12
Genetic research has developed at a rate that few would have imagined possible twenty years ago. It will be affordable in the next decade for the average person to get their whole genome sequenced.
We need to discuss the impact that the outcomes of genetic research are having on society and the possibilities that will emerge in the near future. We need to discuss ethics and the challenges of large-scale applications.
‘The Genetic Revolution and its Impact on Society’ gives the world’s top geneticists and experts the opportunity to debate these challenges. I look forward to attending, broadcasting this discussion and hopefully stimulating further much needed conversations at the #nwd12.
Maria Delaney is a science writer based in Dublin. Her blog, ScienceCalling.com was crowned Ireland’s Best Science and Education Blog 2012. She co-compiled the book, A Neutron Walks into A Bar, which was published by Hachette Ireland in October 2012. She recently gave up a permanent job to venture into the unpredictable world of journalism and is completing an MA in Journalism at Dublin City University.