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A Massive Project For The Benefit Of Mankind: A Look At The Human Genome Project

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Science & Nature

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Scientists are taking medical technology to new heights as they race to
map all of the genes, nearly 100,000, in the 23 chromosomes of the human body.
Along the way, they hope to understand the basis of, and maybe even develop
methods of treating certain genetic diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Muscular
Dystrophy. They plan to do this by identifying the DNA sequence of an abnormal
gene in which a disease originates and comparing it with the data of a normal or
healthy gene. The entire research project is entitled "The Human Genome
"The Human Genome Project" is a large scale project being conducted by
more than 200 laboratories, with even more researchers and labs having joined in.
Most of the labs and researchers are located in France and the United States.
The project started in 1990 and was slated to take 15 years and cost $3 billion
in U.S. money for the entire project coming to roughly $200 million per year.
Federal funding for the project is nearly 60% of the annual need. This has
created some funding problems for the project. There also have been
technological advances and discoveries that have helped to speed up the project.
This automation may help to reduce the cost and help the project to meet its
objectives ahead of schedule. The project was estimated to have detailed maps
of all of the chromosomes and know the location of most of the human Genes by
1996. Researchers have successfully located the gene and DNA sequence for
Huntington's Disease on Chromosome 4 and have created a genetic test to
determine if a person carries this gene. "The child of a person with
Huntington's has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene, which inevitably leads to
the disease." Once an individual acquires the gene, it is only a matter of
time before they acquire the disease. Because the medical costs of treating
such persons in terminal illnesses are extremely high, insurance companies who
want to stay in business see this genetic test, and others like it, as an
opportunity to screen prospective clients for the probability of such diseases.
Some people feel that this information gives insurance companies unfair
advantage over those covered by medical insurance and point out that release of
genetic information to insurance companies puts a severe disadvantage on the
person who is screened, as well as violates the patients right to privacy. If
this genetic information is not safegua rded as confidential for the patient's
and doctor's knowledge alone, then the patient can be labeled as undesirable and
the patient may not be able to receive insurance coverage at any price. This
also brings up other ethical questions. "Does genetic testing constitute an
invasion of privacy, and would it stigmatize those found to have serious inborn
deficiencies? Would prenatal testing lead to more abortions? Should anyone be
tested before the age of consent?" Obviously, many genetic advancements are to
come of this research. One biotechnology that will benefit from genetic testing
is genetic engineering. It too, may have many social implications depending on
what is created from such experimentation. Gene Therapy is one "spin-off" that
has greatly benefited Gene-mapping. It utilizes genetic engineering to treat
genetic disorders by "introducing genes into existing cells to prevent or cure
diseases" . Most of the methods are still in the experimental stages and have
yet to be approved by the FDA. One example would be in a proposed treatment for
a brain tumor. Scientists would take a herpes gene and splice it in to a
nonvirulent virus. Viruses and liposomes have an uncanny ability to navigate
through cell membranes. The virus is then placed into a laboratory animal to
reproduce itself, and after reproduction, is injected into the human's brain
tumor. The virus is supposed to invade the tumor cells. Thus, the herpes
enzyme will render the tumor vulnerable to drugs used to cure herpes, killing
the ...

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