Human Genome revolution will be topic of discussion at Given Institute Tuesday |

Human Genome revolution will be topic of discussion at Given Institute Tuesday

Now that the Human Genome Project is complete, the world is on the cusp of a genuine medical revolution.

During the coming years, as researchers identify the genes that cause disease, new genetic tests will determine a person’s risk for anything from diabetes to cancer. And new treatments will be developed to reduce that risk.

Richard A. Spritz, M.D., director of the Human Medical Genetics Program at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, is one of the genetic researchers who has benefited from the Human Genome Project.

“Within the next 10 years, doctors will be able to test for a patient’s susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease and stroke,” said Spritz. “And during the next decade, there will be new treatments to reduce those risks.”

The Human Genome Project, which mapped every human genetic sequence, was completed earlier this year, on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA. Spritz was an early consultant to GenBank, the first DNA sequence database.

Although doctors can already make predictions about a person’s risk for developing certain diseases by researching family history, the new genetic tests will be far more accurate, as they will test an individual’s specific genetic makeup.

However, Spritz said that despite these remarkable medical advances, “the limitation on our success will be human nature. If you know that you have a very high risk for a heart attack at a young age, there are steps you can take to help prevent that, like eating a low-fat diet.

“But the hard part will be getting people to change their behavior. We hope some people will respond once we have these tests developed, but human nature is hard to change.”

Spritz and researchers around the world are now using the information generated from the Human Genome Project to determine the exact location of genes that cause a range of diseases. Spritz is focusing on the genetic sequences that contribute to cleft palate, thyroid diseases, lupus and diabetes.

Over the next 10 years, the public will hear media reports about the identification of disease-causing genes “at an ever-accelerating rate,” according to Spritz.

As the Human Genome Project concluded earlier this year, Spritz said many medical researchers were amazed by one simple fact.

“The number of genes in the human body is much smaller than anyone expected,” Spritz said. “It turns out that the instructions on how to build and operate a human being are simpler than we thought.”

However, the implications are quite complex. Once doctors are able to genetically map individuals, the handling of that personal medical information will be of utmost importance, and Spritz will talk about the ethical ramifications of the Human Genome Project, including the importance of confidentiality.

Upcoming Given lectures include: Aug. 19, Lee Osterman, M.D. – The Boundless Potential of Peripheral Nerve Regeneration; Sept. 11, David J. Newman, O.D. – Windows to Your Health, How Vision Screening Helps Prevent Illness; and Sept. 18, Dr. David Braddock – Cognitive Disability, Emerging Technology and the University of Colorado’s Coleman Institute.

The Given Institute, a property of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, is celebrating its 30th year of hosting numerous national and international conferences as well as professional medical seminars.

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