Want a synopsis of a Pulitzer-prize-winning oncologist/author with FASCINATING ideas? Siddhartha Mukherjee MD, PhD this week came to University of Nevada Reno and spoke to a packed crowd.
Dr. Mukherjee has written two books: The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer and his new book, The Gene: An Intimate History.
I took notes and here were some of his most interesting thoughts during this recent lecture…
- Genetics in medicine is going to be impacted by three important concepts and their relation to each other: genetic prediction, deep learning (artificial intelligence) and precision medicine.
- Consider our genes are like pixels on a screen.
- In the 1940s and 50s eugenics was the study of manipulating genes to promote selective breeding. I think of the Nazis with their “perfect race” but that this concept of altering future genes in humans is still present– with sophisticated researchers with deep-pocketed investors.
- Each of us has DNA which is 3 BILLION different protein components (A,C, T or G) strung together in a unique array. He says to imagine that these protein components are like words in an encyclopedia.
- Every cell has the SAME 3 billion DNA, but different “pages” are read to make different parts of the body. Like the DNA in the cells of the skin are the same as the hair, but they choose to “read” different.
- Every cancer has a unique fingerprint and unique gene abnormalities. It could be ONE gene is abnormal, or it could be that cancer only surfaces when there are multiple (maybe even tens to hundreds) or genetic abnormalities. Some gene abnormalities will remain dormant until there is an environmental trigger (like smoking).
- Treatment, in the future, may be depending on matching the genetic abnormalities.
He admits that we are on the “eve before the bomb” referring to the night before the Atomic Bomb was dropped. We are on a precipice with genetic research wherein afterwards we can manipulate genes of future generations (genetic selection of fetal characteristics?!).
My friend who attended this lecture with me leaned over and said “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle…” Oh, so true, my friend.