Genetic Future

I ranted yesterday about two misleading pieces in the Telegraph (an opinion piece from Steve Jones, and a follow-up article) that sequentially converted a debate between scientists over the value of genome-wide association studies and the future of genetic research into a broader indictment of the last few years of common disease genetics.

Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust (a major funder of genomic research), has responded today in a letter to the Telegraph (a third of the way down the page). Here’s the text of the letter:

Genetic research vital

SIR – Professor Steve Jones is completely wrong to suggest that “our approach
to genetic research is costly and misguided” (Comment, April 21). We are in
the midst of an extraordinary flowering of knowledge as a result of genetic
research.

It is only five years since the completed sequence of the human genome was
announced. Hundreds of genetic factors associated with human variation in
health and disease have been discovered since.

For example, we have discovered how abnormal control of inflammation lies
behind one of the causes of age-related macular degeneration. We have
discovered genes that reveal the pathways of inflammation important to the
development of inflammatory bowel disease. We have discovered genetic
pathways for cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes and obesity.

Genetic analysis of cancer is also revealing new targets for drug therapies.

Of course, Professor Jones is right that it has turned out to be very
complicated, but everyone in the field expected this. He is also right that
there is still much to discover, but this a very fast moving field. Major
genome centres are now capable of sequencing approximately one human genome
every day, compared to the many years it took to sequence the first genome.

None of us is under any delusion that one needs to take all factors into
account when finding the causes of disease. However, Professor Jones is
wrong when he says that the “mountain has laboured and brought forth not
much more than a mouse”. Genetic analysis is proving to be the tool that is
opening up an Everest of knowledge, and we all stand to benefit.

Sir Mark Walport
Director, Wellcome Trust
London NW1

Well said.